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Airborne ISR for Fleet Protection
The UK’s Minister for Defence Procurement, Harriet Baldwin, announced on 16 January that the Royal Navy will receive, “a vital intelligence, surveillance and tracking systems for our new QUEEN ELIZABETH-class aircraft carriers,” in the form of the CROWSNEST airborne ISR capability.
The production contract, worth £269 million, marks an important step in the ambitious aircraft carrier programme. CROWSNEST will form an integral part of the Carrier Enabled Power Projection (CEPP) capability central to future British security policy. Lockheed Martin, as prime contractor for CROWSNEST, has subcontracted Thales UK to provide the solution, which Lockheed Martin will integrate on to the MERLIN Mk2 helicopter fleet. Leonardo will modify the aircraft in order to accommodate the system and the contract also includes £9 million in initial spares provisioning to support CROWSNEST during training and operational deployment.
The Thales solution combines a new generation of the company’s celebrated SEARCHWATER radar with an updated and improved version of the CERBERUS tactical sensor suite, which is already in service on the SEAKING Mk7 Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC) fleet. The design uses an innovative system to provide 360° visibility for the single mechanically scanned radar head from the underside of the helicopter, folding up to the side of the aircraft when not in operation.
The new capability will begin to enter service from 2018, as the last of the Sea King ASaC helicopters are retired and will maximise re-use of the MoD’s existing investment in equipment, training and expertise by upgrading, updating and adapting a battle proven capability. The new generation of CROWSNEST represents a step change in both user functionality and operational capability, according to Thales.
An improved human machine interface utilising touch screen technology and an autonomous artificial intelligence-based tracking system provide users with a highly innovative approach to the demands of modern maritime warfare. The new system offers operators vastly improved target identification, an ability to ‘library match’ airborne contacts and introduces inverse synthetic aperture radar and fully integrated electronic support measures. Operators are also able to exploit collected data more effectively through a greatly enhanced mission recording and replay system that allows both real time and post mission data reconstruction.
Overall, the production contract will sustain over 200 highly skilled UK jobs; 90 for Thales UK at Crawley and 60 each for Lockheed Martin in Havant and Leonardo at Yeovil.