AgustaWestland has now delivered 48 of the 62 AW159 Wildcat helicopters ordered for the British Army and Royal Navy. The latter service is to receive 28 of them and is working hard to bring the fleet into service following a formal release to service in April 2013 and the declaration of initial operating capability this January.
In March, a naval Wildcat HMA.2 set off on its first deployment with a flight from 815 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) embarked in the Type 23 frigate HMS Lancaster.
Now well into its nine-month deployment, which has seen it undertake operations in the Caribbean and South Atlantic, the Wildcat flight is reporting 100 per cent serviceability from its new aircraft.
In the summer, a Wildcat HMA.2 was transported to Bahrain to embark on the Type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan for ship helicopter operating limits trials in a hot environment. Training is underway with 825 NAS at Yeovilton, and later this year the AH.1 Army variant of Wildcat will deploy aboard HMS Ocean with 847 NAS.
For the Royal Navy, the Wildcat represents a major uplift in capability from the Lynx HMA.8 it is replacing in the small ships flights. The sensor suite is significantly upgraded, with an L-3 Wescam MX-15Di electro-optical turret and Selex ES Seaspray 7400E radar.
The latter is an e-scan unit that can operate in numerous modes, including surface search, ISAR imaging for identifying targets at up to 80 nautical miles, SAR for ground mapping and weather reconnaissance. The radar has moving target indication out to a range of 25 nautical miles against air, sea and land targets, greatly enhancing its ability to track and monitor surface targets, as well as giving it a measure of air surveillance capability.
Seaspray 7400E has greatly reduced maintenance requirements over the Lynx HMA.8’s radar, while greatly expanding operational capability. The rotating e-scan array requires just three rotations to establish initial surface contacts, and in 90 seconds can build a complete maritime picture with headings and velocities. It can track up to 100 targets, and has the capability to spot targets as small as a human head.
Given that the Wildcat is expected to operate at times in hostile environments, the helicopter is fitted with the Selex ES HIDAS (helicopter integrated defensive aids system) 15. This is a variant of the system installed in British Army Apaches, and comprises a Sky Guardian radar warning receiver, AAR-57 missile warning system and Vicon 78 countermeasures.
A range of weapons is available to the Wildcat HMA.2, carried on four hardpoints.
Two Stingray torpedoes can be carried or two depth charges. For surface attack, the Wildcat is intended to carry up to four passive IR-guided MBDA Sea Venom missiles, or the Thales Martlet laser beam-riding missile. Each of the four weapon stations can carry five-round launchers for the Martlet, giving a maximum of 20 missiles. This weapon is of particular use in the defence against swarming fast inshore attack craft threats. Sea Venom and Martlet are expected to achieve initial operational capability around 2018-19.
On the export front, the AW159 has been sold to the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN), which has ordered eight. AgustaWestland is on track with the delivery schedule, and expects to hand over the first batch of four by the end of the year, with the remainder to follow in the first half of 2016.