Successful firings of the Thales MARTLET Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM) have been conducted from a Leonardo AW159 WILDCAT helicopter, the companies announced on 26 May.
Conducted 27 April to 21 May as part of the UK MoD’s Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (FASGW) programme, the firing trials represent a major milestone for the programme and will enable the Royal Navy (RN) to bring this capability into service later this year.
“This major milestone demonstrates that the combination of the AW159 WILDCAT and MARTLET missile will be a flexible and effective tool for the Royal Navy. Next year the WILDCAT fleet will embark on Carrier Strike Group missions with HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH on its maiden operational deployment,” commented Nick Whitney, Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters (UK).
The firings represent “[…] a key milestone in the programme, delivering a significant step-change in capability for the platform. LMM MARTLET will ensure that the WILDCAT has the best-in-class offensive capability to protect HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH and her task group during her maiden operational deployment next year. With each platform capable of carrying up to 20 MARTLET, the WILDCATs deployed with the task group will be a significant deterrent to anyone wishing to interfere with UK interests,” added Philip McBride, General Manager, Integrated Airspace Protection Systems at Thales UK.
In July 2014, the MoD contracted Leonardo to integrate, test and install the MBDA SEA VENOM (FASGW (Heavy)) and Thales LMM (FASGW (Light)) systems onto the WILDCAT. With that integration now achieved for the LMM, the system provides a step-change in capability to engage smaller, fast-moving, asymmetric threats, which represent a significant challenge for the RN due to the combination of high mobility, low thermal and radar signatures and severe background clutter. The LMM can overcome these issues where traditional electro-optic and radar guidance systems do not provide the certainty of hit required. From WILDCAT, operators could also deploy MARTLET to engage airborne targets such as UAS and maritime helicopters.
The LMM launchers are mounted to the AW159 via the new Leonardo WEAPON WING, developed at the company’s Yeovil facilities and first trialled last year. Each weapon wing will be able to carry either ten MARTLET or two SEA VENOM missiles while generating additional lift in forward flight, thus reducing demands on the main rotor.
Given the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the trials teams had to develop new and innovative methods of working together while maintaining ‘social distancing’ and complying with other restrictions imposed by the authorities.