New Surveillance System for Future Royal Navy Aircraft Carriers Revealed
(Source: UK Ministry of Defence; issued May 22, 2015)
Crowsnest, the Royal Navy’s new airborne early warning & control helicopter, will consist of a Merlin Mk 2 fitted with a Thales Searchwater radar which folds up to the side of the airframe when not in operation. (UK MoD photo)
A new helicopter-borne surveillance system has been chosen to protect the Royal Navy’s future Queen Elizabeth Class carriers.

The MOD and Lockheed Martin UK, as the prime contractor for Crowsnest, have selected Thales as the chosen bidder to provide the radar and mission system at the heart of the Crowsnest capability.

The Crowsnest project will act as the Royal Navy’s eyes and ears for its next generation carriers, giving long range air, maritime and land detection, as well as the capability to track potential threats. Crowsnest will also be able to support wider fleet and land operations, replacing the Sea King helicopter’s Airborne Surveillance and Control capability that has been deployed on regular operations since 1982.

Lockheed Martin UK will now conclude the project’s £27 million assessment phase, expected in 2016, supported by Thales and AgustaWestland, the manufacturer of the Merlin helicopter onto which the system will be able to be fitted.

Once a decision has been taken to proceed into the manufacture phase, it is expected that around 300 jobs will be sustained across these companies in Crawley, Havant and Yeovil.

Philip Dunne, Minister of State for Defence Procurement, said:

“It is essential that our ships and particularly our future aircraft carriers will have the best possible protection. The Crowsnest system onboard our new Merlin Mk2 helicopter will deliver an essential surveillance and intelligence capability, providing early warnings to our personnel of any potential threats.

“The progress on Crowsnest complements the wider Queen Elizabeth Class carrier programme and shows that we are moving ever closer to providing this 21st century Carrier Strike capability for the Royal Navy.”

The upgraded Merlin Mk2 helicopters are the world’s most advanced maritime helicopter, which already provide various functions including Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and humanitarian duties.

Crowsnest is part of the UK’s future aircraft carrier capability, which will deliver two Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers and fifth generation Lightning II fast jets to operate from them across the world.

Air Vice-Marshal Julian Young, Director Helicopters at the MOD’s Defence Equipment and Support organisation, said:

“Crowsnest will form an integral part of future carrier operations and act as the Royal Navy’s eyes and ears, providing protection through early warning and surveillance.

“We have accelerated our programme delivery strategy in order to sustain the capability seamlessly through our Merlin Mk2 helicopters as the Sea King Mk7 fleet retires from service in 2018, and we are confident that the programme will be delivered as planned.”

The Thales solution is an updated, improved and repackaged role-fit version of the Cerberus tactical sensor suite currently in service on the Sea King Mk7 helicopter.

The design comprises of a single mechanically scanned radar head which uses an innovative system to provide 360-degree visibility from the underside of the helicopter, and which folds up to the side of the aircraft when not in operation.


Crowsnest - the 'Eyes and Ears' of the Fleet
(Source: UK Ministry of Defence; issued May 22, 2015)
Today we have announced that a new helicopter-borne surveillance system has been chosen to protect the Royal Navy’s future Queen Elizabeth Class carriers. Here, Minister of State for Defence Procurement Philip Dunne talks about this important advancement in technology:

“Today, I am delighted to announce that we have chosen Thales as the sub-contractor to provide the radar and mission system at the heart of the Crowsnest helicopter-borne surveillance capability being delivered by Lockheed Martin UK. The surveillance capability in its modern format was born out of a requirement to protect the Royal Navy’s task group from sea-skimming missile attack during the re-capture of the Falkland Islands in 1982.

“The new Crowsnest system will be integrated into the Merlin Mk2 helicopter and will replace the system developed after 1982, the Sea King Airborne Surveillance and Control which has served the nation well, both at sea and on land. Most recently, it provided essential intelligence to UK and coalition ground forces in Afghanistan.

“Crowsnest will be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the fleet, designed to provide early detection of potential air and surface threats and provide military commanders time to take essential and often pivotal decisions. In addition, Crowsnest is good news for British industry; once manufacturing starts, it is expected around 300 jobs will be sustained in Crawley, Havant and Yeovil.

“In the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, we undertook to regain a Carrier Strike capability by 2020, by building and bringing into service HMS Queen Elizabeth, the first of the two Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft carriers, and equipping it with Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft. More recently, at the NATO summit in Cardiff last September, the Prime Minister announced HMS Prince of Wales, the second ship of the class, would enter service ensuring, “we always have one available, 100% of the time.”

At around 65,000 tons, these are the biggest ships we have ever built for the Royal Navy and, equipped with JSF, Crowsnest on the Merlin Mk2 and other helicopters, they will help keep the UK’s armed forces modern, agile and powerful. In all their missions, the aircraft carriers offer the UK the flexibility to establish a regional presence without reliance upon a host nation to support land based forces.

“As part of my new role as Minister of State for Defence Procurement I shall be supporting the Secretary of State in leading the MOD’s work on the SDSR 2015 over coming months. Delivering our Carrier Strike capability will form an important element of this review.

“With our aircraft carriers, we will have ships which can not only carry fighter aircraft but can also undertake a range of other essential tasks. Some of these will involve military deterrence or making use of the carriers’ broader war-fighting capability: for example we can use embarked helicopters to support amphibious landings or the vital work our Special Forces do to keep us safe.

“But other tasks will be humanitarian. The UK has a long history of helping our allies and partner nations, and the carriers will play a vital role in maintaining the UK’s global reputation for providing assistance to our friends in times of need. We will all recall the harrowing scenes following the devastation left behind by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in November 2012, and I was enormously proud of the vital and life-saving assistance HMS Illustrious was able to offer.

“On other occasions, due to internal strife or other conflict abroad, the UK Government may advise British nationals that, for their own safety, they should evacuate from a particular area. Where that proves difficult, having an aircraft carrier available with its helicopters gives us the confidence to know that the Royal Navy could facilitate an evacuation quickly and safely.

“Whether protecting the nation, providing humanitarian aid or helping to prevent conflict, one thing is clear: the combination of the carrier, its aircraft and personnel will equip the UK with some of the best capability that this country has ever seen.”


Thales Surveillance System Selected for Royal Navy’s New Merlin Airborne Surveillance Helicopters
(Source: Thales; issued May 22, 2015)
PARIS LA DÉFENSE --- Thales has been selected, under the ‘CROWSNEST’ project, to provide the Royal Navy with a new airborne surveillance and control system to provide critical force protection to Joint forces, including the Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.

Following an industry competition, Lockheed Martin, who act as the Ministry of Defence’s prime contractor for the Merlin helicopter, have selected a new generation of the Thales Searchwater radar and Cerberus mission system to be fitted to specially adapted Merlins to provide the Navy with an airborne surveillance and control capability (ASaC).

The fleet of Merlin helicopters will replace the Royal Navy’s outgoing Sea King Mark 7 ASaC force which is fitted with an earlier version of the Searchwater and Cerberus systems. The new capability will enter operational service in 2018 when the last of the Sea King ASaC helicopters are retired.

Thales’ winning solution will maximise the re-use of the Ministry of Defence’s existing investment in equipment, training and expertise by upgrading, updating and adapting a battle proven capability, ahead of operational timescales.

Improvements to the Royal Navy’s new system include enhanced performance and data processing, as well as the addition of new modes to the operationally proven, high-powered multi-mission radar. An improved human machine interface, reduced weight and built-in training features have all been designed to future proof the highly successful system. It will also be capable of being fitted to both rotary and fixed-wing platforms.

Originally designed for maritime airborne force protection, the advanced multi-mode radar and sensor systems have proved an invaluable surveillance asset, capable of detecting and tracking multiple targets over land, air and sea. As a result the fleet has a noteworthy history of force protection extending from anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean, to Iraq in 2003 and more recently in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2014; additionally, the system provided crucial airborne surveillance and control for the 2012 Olympic Games.
“The Thales Searchwater – Cerberus combination has proved to be a critical asset not only for maritime force protection and air surveillance but also for coalition forces on land operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The CROWSNEST capability builds on a trusted system to meet threats that the Royal Navy will face over the forthcoming years. Through new innovative radar modes and improved performance against low radar cross section targets, the Royal Navy will have a world class rotary-based platform to protect the new aircraft carriers, the fleet and Joint forces,” said Victor Chavez, CEO of Thales UK.

Key points
• New airborne surveillance and control system that will provide the Royal Navy with critical force protection.
• New generation of Searchwater radar and Cerberus mission system to be fitted to adapted Merlin helicopters.
• The radar uses an innovative system to provide 360 degree visibility from the underside of the helicopter and which folds up to the side of the aircraft when not in use.

Thales is a global technology leader for the Aerospace, Transport, Defence and Security markets. With 61,000 employees in 56 countries, Thales reported sales of €13 billion in 2014. With over 20,000 engineers and researchers, Thales has a unique capability to design and deploy equipment, systems and services to meet the most complex security requirements. Its unique international footprint allows it to work closely with its customers all over the world.


prev next

Press releases See all

Breaking News from AFP See all

Official reports See all