A Royal Navy (RN) Merlin helicopter squadron, equipped with Thales’s FLASH (Folding Light Acoustic System) active dipping sonar system, has played a vital role in a multi-national anti-submarine warfare (ASW) NATO exercise in the Mediterranean.
814 Naval Air Squadron from RN Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall has recently returned from two weeks of training in Exercise ‘Proud Manta 2011’. This was the first time a RN Merlin squadron has taken part in NATO’s largest annual ASW exercise.
Three Merlin Mk1 maritime patrol helicopters, five crews and 40 maintainers deployed 1,400 miles across Europe to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, 15 miles south of Mount Etna, to take part in the exercise and practice hunting submarines alongside other NATO helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
The Merlin’s acoustic sub-system comprises the FLASH dipping sonar, combined with a sonics sub-system for sonobuoy processing. FLASH is the RN’s principal airborne sensor system for ASW and also equips the US Navy MH60-R ASW helicopters, French, Norwegian and Swedish NFH90 helicopters, and the UAE’s Cougar helicopters.
Designed for deep and shallow water ASW operations and proven in worldwide littoral environments, the FLASH sonar is dipped into the water by winch to locate submarine targets.
Forces from 10 NATO nations participated in ‘Proud Manta 2011’ in the Ionian Sea to the Southeast of Sicily. Surface ships and aircraft from Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the US trained and practiced at being both the hunter and the hunted.
During the exercise, the RN squadron, commanded by Cdr Darran Goldsmith, achieved 86 hours of flying and completed 27 submarine attacks. Six submarines from Greece (1), Italy (1), Spain (1), Turkey (2) and the US (1) were involved.
Lt Cdr Andy Watson, 814 Squadron’s Senior Observer, was the detachment commander at Sigonella. He says: “The primary sensor for all ASW operations was the FLASH active dipping sonar, and it was the envy of the many maritime patrol aircraft crews and squadrons that participated in the exercise. 814 Squadron had the most ‘in-contact time’ of any participating unit, and was able to showcase the flexibility that having a sensor such as FLASH gives us.”
“The active dipping sonar really separates us from the other anti-submarine air assets in the exercise in that we can be much more reactive, and due to the compatibility of the sonar and the Stingray torpedo systems, we can attack the contact while tracking it on active sonar.”
“During the screening operations the active sonar really does excel. It is the ideal sensor to locate and clear threats in the water space ahead of the task force to ensure their safe passage, a task that a maritime patrol aircraft is not able to do effectively with the use of active sonobouys.”
“Perhaps the most envied feature of having the FLASH ADS onboard is the enhanced ranges we are able to achieve when compared with the maritime patrol aircraft active sonobouys, and even other ADS equipped air assets. This enabled the FLASH-equipped Merlin aircraft to be an effective force multiplier, and was in great demand by the surface assets to assist them in the ASW battle.”
Cdr Kevin Dodd, the RN’s Merlin Force Commander, says: “I’m not surprised that Merlin and FLASH have done well in ‘Proud Manta 2011’. Merlin is a world-class aircraft that forms the backbone of the UK’s ASW capability. Success in this international exercise also demonstrates our interoperability with partner nations for maritime operations worldwide.”
“Merlin is the UK’s only aircraft capable of finding and attacking submarines. Its primary role is to protect Britain’s nuclear deterrent and maritime task groups worldwide, which will be led in the future by the UK’s biggest ever warships, the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.”
“Merlin is also one of the UK’s most versatile MPA, capable of ‘find and attack’ on the surface of the sea, lifting heavy loads, moving people and stores, or providing search and rescue. All this from a single aircraft represents real value for money.”
Thales is a global technology leader for the defence & security and the aerospace & transport markets. In 2010 the company generated revenues of £11.2 billion (€13.1 billion), with 68,000 employees in 50 countries. With its 22,500 engineers and researchers, Thales has a unique capability to design, develop and deploy equipment, systems and services that meet the most complex security requirements. Thales has an exceptional international footprint, with operations around the world working with customers as local partners.
Thales UK employs 8,000 staff based at 40 locations. In 2010 Thales UK’s revenues were around £1.5 billion.