British navy continues the development of its Merlin Mk2 Crowsnest Airborne Surveillance and Control helicopter

According to a Tweet released by NavyLookout on August 7, 2020, the British Navy continues the development of its Merlin Mk2 helicopter fitted with the Crowsnest Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC) system.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 British Navy Merlin Mk2 helicopter Crowsnest. (Picture source Twitter account NavyLookout)

The Royal Navy’s EH 101 Merlin HM Mk 1 Helicopters were originally manufactured by Augusta Westland and Lockheed Martin UK in the 1990s and designed to operate primarily in the antisubmarine role. They have recently undergone a significant upgrade and re-entered service as the Merlin Mk2, supplying the UK’s Maritime Force Protection and airborne anti-submarine warfare capability.

The Merlin Capability Sustainment Programme provided 30 Mk2s with a redesigned cockpit, improvements to mission system processing, enhanced capabilities for the Merlin’s Blue Kestrel Radar and Sonar system, broadened data link, and upgrades to the aircrew console and avionics, including large flat-panel touch screens. Tactically, these improvements will enable the Mk2 to track 40 times the number of targets compared to the Mk1. Enhance its shallow-water submarine detection and night operations meaning the Merlin continues to be the world’s most potent sub-hunting helicopter.

In 2017, Lockheed Martin was awarded a £269m contract to deliver the Royal Navy’s CROWSNEST Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC) program. It uses a high power radar to provide long-range air, maritime and land tracking capabilities that will ensure early detection of potential threats and vital surveillance for the entire fleet.

This capability will be role fitted onto the Merlin Mk2 helicopters and deployed in support of various Royal Navy vessels including the fleet flagships HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

CROWSNEST incorporates an updated version of a Thales Searchwater radar and Cerberus Mission System which are deployed as role fit kits along with the Merlin Mk2 helicopters. This will allow the Royal Navy to adjust the configuration of the airframe depending on the mission.

In March 2019, the Merlin Mk2 CROWSNEST Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC) system completed the first test flight. The initial test flights were conducted to assess the handling qualities of the aircraft with the new external radar equipment fitted.