LONDON --- The U.K. is facing a four-year gap in its carrier-borne airborne early warning (AEW) capability as the Defense Ministry searches for a successor for the long-serving Westland Sea King Mk7 fleet.
Initial work is underway to replace the fleet of radar-equipped Sea Kings, which have been providing aerial surveillance for Royal Navy carriers and battle groups since the early 1980s. The program, called Crowsnest, is charged with finding the replacement for this capability and a range of options is being studied.
According to questions asked in Parliament on Nov. 19, Crowsnest will enter its assessment phase in 2013 and has “not yet passed its main investment decision point,” says Philip Dunne, minister for defense equipment, support and technology. The project became part of the Defense Ministry's core equipment program under the Planning Round 12, announced in May.
Today, the Royal Navy has 13 Sea King Mk7 helicopters equipped with the Thales Searchwater radar system.
But these Sea Kings, along with those used for search-and-rescue and amphibious assault mission, will be eliminated from the U.K. inventory at the end of 2016, while the first two Mk7s will be retired in 2013.
Crowsnest envisages the replacement capability to be in service in 2020, in time for use on the new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers. But this leaves a four-year gap in which U.K. ships will not have AEW, although Dunne added that other systems could fill the void in the interim. (end of excerpt)
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