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DSEi 2011: Lockheed Martin promoting podded AEW solution

16th September 2011 - 13:00 by Tony Osborne in London

Lockheed Martin has revealed a possible solution to an expected Royal Navy requirement for helicopter-based airborne early warning system for its future aircraft carriers.

Currently the Fleet Air Arm operates a fleet of Sea King ASaC7 helicopters equipped with the Thales Searchwater radar system which provides airborne early warning and also an element of GMTI capability which has proved extremely useful for the coalition forces in Afghanistan. The aircraft have also recently been heavily tasked on Operation Ellamy in support of NATO operations in Libya.

Because the Sea King expected to exit service in 2016, before the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft is operational, work is underway to find a new methods of delivering helicopter-borne early warning capability.

Lockheed Martin are proposing a podded system which could be fitted onto the side of a Merlin helicopter. Inside the pod is a active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar which could be integrated into the mission consoles in the back of the upgraded Merlin Mk2 - work which is currently being undertaken by Lockheed Martin under the Merlin Capability Sustainment Programme (MCSP). Lockheed Martin says the benefits of the system include a 'low cost ownership as dedicated aircraft are not required.'

The pod also includes ESM sensors and the pods are expected to weigh around 280 kg. It's not clear how many pods would be fitted as a standard mission fit, but one pod on each side of the aircraft would give the radar operators 360 degrees of coverage.
AgustaWestland and Thales have also suggested using the Merlin as an AEW platform but this would require dedicated Merlins for the task, as the idea involves transferring the Searchwater radars and associated electronics out of the Sea King and into the Merlin with the radar retracting down under the tail boom where the rear ramp would be.

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