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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Fleet Air Arm to be Equipped with New Lightweight Starburst Missiles

    The Ministry of Defence announced today its intention to procure £48 million worth of state-of-the-art missiles which are to be carried by Royal Navy helicopters.

    Defence minister Philip Dunne said the new missiles, made in east Belfast by the defence company Thales, "will help win battles."

    The Ministry of Defence suggested the the new Lightweight Multi-Role Missile (LMM) named 'Starburst' would be used for Britain's national defence. Mr Dunne said coastlines represented areas of growing concern to armed forces around the world and this new technology would provide Britain with greater protection.

    The system will be used to target small ships and fast attack craft and is designed and built by Thales UK's Belfast plant.

    The new LMM (lightweight multi-role missile)

    Cross section of the Starburst missile​

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Royal Navy Helicopter Observer Killed in Training Accident to be Honoured with Flypast and Official Naming of Locomotive

    A dedicated Royal Navy helicopter observer and railway enthusiast from Dorset who died in a training accident is to be honoured with a flypast over Swanage station today – during the official naming of a newly mainline overhauled 1960s heritage diesel locomotive in her honour.

    One of the Fleet Air Arm's first female Lynx helicopter aircrew, Jenny Lewis from Sherborne was a long-time fan of the classic 1960s-built Class 33 diesel-electric locomotives, of which the 71A Locomotive Group's No. D6515 is an example.

    The late Lieutenant Jennifer Lewis, one of the Fleet Air Arm's first female Lynx crew members

    With Jenny's proud father Chris and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm senior officers in attendance, the gleaming 73-ton diesel locomotive – which hauled London trains to Corfe Castle and Swanage in 1966 – will be named 'Lt Jenny Lewis RN' during a poignant ceremony at Swanage station from 1pm today, (Thursday, 12 June).

    In Jenny's honour, a flypast by a Lynx helicopter from Yeovilton in Somerset over Swanage station and No. D6515 takes place at 1.30pm – just after proud father Chris Lewis unveils one of the new nameplates 12 years to the day since his 25-year-old daughter died; the first United Kingdom naval servicewoman to lose her life while on operational duty.

    Chris said: "I am thrilled about D6515 being named after Jenny and I know that she would be too. Having the locomotive named after my daughter is amazing and Jenny would be so honoured.

    "Jenny was a very vivacious girl who worked extremely hard and played hard too. She was very loving and interested in everything – especially mechanical things. If she made up her mind to achieve something, she put her mind to it and did it.

    "The Royal Navy never fails to amaze me – it's a huge family and if I had my time again, I would have served with them," he added.

    Class 33 No. D6515 was one of a fleet of 98 locomotives delivered to the Southern Region of British Railways in the early 1960s and which is today being named after Jenny Lewis

    Today's official naming ceremony is being organised and hosted by Brian Denton, chairman of the 71A Locomotive Group with the address being given by a senior officer with the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm.

    Following the official naming, No. D6515 will depart Swanage at 1.40pm with a special train to Harman's Cross, Corfe Castle and Norden Park & Ride carrying Jenny's family, invited Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm guests and 71A Locomotive Group supporters before returning to Swanage for 2.40pm.

    Tragically, Jenny was killed in June, 2002, during a training flight in a Lynx when the helicopter developed double engine failure and crashed into the sea during a joint British and American military exercise off the coast of Virginia on the east coast of the United States.

    As a tribute to his daughter, Jenny's father Chris Lewis – who lives in Broadstone in Dorset – became a major shareholder in the 71A Locomotive Group to help pay for the major overhaul of No. D6515 to main line standards at Eastleigh Works in Hampshire.

    A Lynx helicopter flies over Chris Lewis, (Jenny's father) with Brian Denton, Chairman of the 71A Locomotive Group and Commadore Jock Alexander from RNAS Yeovilton at the naming of diesel locomotive D6515 the "Lt Jenny Lewis" at Swanage Station

    During its 35 year working career with British Rail, No. D6515 hauled trains in Kent, across the south and west of England as well as in the London area, south Wales and the midlands on both passenger and freight trains.

    Powered by a 1550 horsepower Sulzer diesel engine and built by the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company in 1960, Class 33 No. D6515 was one of a fleet of 98 locomotives delivered to the Southern Region of British Railways in the early 1960s.

    After a long and successful career with British Rail, No. D6515 was stored surplus to requirements at Eastleigh during 1995 before being withdrawn in 1997 and purchased by the volunteers of the 71A Locomotive Group.

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Video Footage from Exercise "Deep Blue"

    (See item above for more details)

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Exercise "Deep Blue" to Commence Monday 2nd June

    RNAS Culdrose have been busy training and getting everything ready for one of their biggest operations since the Cold War.

    Next Monday, nine of the latest Merlin helicopters carrying more than 250 personnel will depart from the base near Helston.

    Their home for four weeks will be the Atlantic Ocean on-broad the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious. They will take part in continuous operations to hunt for French and British submarines shadowing the carrier in an exercise code named Deep Blue.

    Commander Ben Franklin

    Commander Ben Franklin, in charge of the Merlin helicopter fleet at Culdrose, said crews were deployed to ships around the world – but this Deep Blue was exceptional for its size and complexity.

    A former Observer on Sea King helicopters, Commander Franklin, 47, said: "I was doing Cold War ops off carriers in the 1980s. But this new generation haven't done anything on this scale before. I can tell you though, they are ready for it.

    "When you go to carrier ops, then you are in a whole different league."

    The group is due to fly out of Culdrose in formation at around midday next Monday.

    Commander Franklin added: "We'll be undertaking force protection, that's making sure ships and task groups are safe.

    "That includes surface protection, such as from small boats, for instance we do a lot of anti-piracy work.

    "Our primary role however is in anti-submarine protection and that is where the Merlin is world class.

    "It's packed full of equipment that enables us to locate submarines.

    "Once we locate a submarine then they are in a world of pain. Of course, if they get a firing solution on one of our ships, then we are in a world of pain."

    The exercise is designed to test the group's ability to keep three helicopters continually in the air looking for submarines 24 hours a day.

    Taking part are 18 flight crews of four men for each helicopter, flight deck crews, engineers and support staff – a total of more than 250 Culdrose personnel.

    They will be pushed to work around the clock flying, refuelling and repairing the aircraft – known in Navy jargon as a 'ripple'.

    "We are the insurance policy that you hope you are never going to cash in," added Commander Franklin.

    "While it is exciting and it's not going to come without some challenges, this is what we do and what we're paid to do."

    Heading up the Culdrose carrier air group is Naval Air Squadron 820 with helicopters and personnel from 824 and 829 Squadrons and 814 in support.

    This will also be one of the last operations for HMS Illustrious which is to be scrapped later this year. Her replacement, the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, will be ready for active service in two years' time.

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Royal Navy Lynx in Gibraltar 'Buzzing' Incident

    The UK Foreign Office has admitted a Royal Navy helicopter swooped low over a Spanish 'Guardia Civil' vessel when it entered Gibraltar waters, having initially denied eye witness accounts.

    Witnesses reported seeing a Royal Navy Lynx helicopter ‘buzz’ the patrol boat Rio Cedena while it was in Gibraltar territorial waters on Friday.

    At first the MoD said there was no intervention by a helicopter when the boat sailed into Gibraltar waters at 7:30 in the morning, spending nearly half an hour in the Bay, and defying warnings by the Royal Navy.

    There was a second incursion by the same vessel at around midday, although it was only in Gibraltar waters for a few minutes.

    Royal Navy Lynx HMA.8 XZ689 in Gibraltar

    Witnesses again reported having seen the Royal Navy Lynx (which arrived in Gibraltar with HMS Northumberland) swooping low near the Rio Cedena during this second incursion.

    Initially, the Foreign Office said the helicopter was not involved in any operation regarding unlawful incursions. However, late on Friday night a different line emerged with a spokesperson confirming: “HMS Northumberland and a Royal Navy Lynx helicopter conducted a routine sovereignty patrol of British Gibraltar.”

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    New CO for 771 NAS

    At a ceremony at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, Commander Martin Shepherd has handed over the reigns of 771 Search and Rescue Naval Air Squadron to Lieutenant Commander Scott Armstrong.

    Cdr Shepherd took command of 771 NAS on 29 March 2012 and has completed 150 Search and Rescue (SAR) missions. Martin’s first SAR job was back in December 2009 when as Senior Pilot he and his crew assisted the Spanish Trawler Trevessa, on fire 50 miles South West of the Isle of Scilly. The rescue earned Petty Officer Aircrewman “Cags” Lacy the Queens Gallantry Medal (QGM) and the crew the prestigious Edward and Maisie Lewis Award for gallantry. Prior to the hand-over ceremony, and thankfully in not the same weather conditions, three members of that original crew re-united to fly once again to the Trevessa; CDR Shepherd, Lt Cdr Steve Hopkins and Lt Cdr Alex Stevenson, marking a fitting conclusion to a very successful time in command of the Royal Navy’s SAR Squadron.

    Commander Martin Shepherd (left) hands over the 'Key the to Squadron' to Lt Cdr Scott Armstrong

    Lt Cdr Scott Armstrong brings with him a wealth of experience since embarking on a Flying career as a Royal Naval aviator in 1991, as an Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) Pilot with 814 NAS from Culdrose and onboard HMS Invincible.

    Much of Scott’s experience has been gathered with the Green Commando “Junglie” Sea Kings at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset, during which he completed several tours as a Flight Commander in Bosnia, the Balkans, Norway and the Mediterranean with 845 NAS. Following this he was selected for a Flying Instructor course and became a Qualified Helicopter Instructors Course (QHI) and served on 848 NAS the “Junglie” Training Squadron.

    Scott diversified further and took up a rare opportunity for Fleet Air Arm pilots when he joined RAF Odiham in Hampshire to fly the Chinook Mk 2. This gave him a challenging tour that saw him serving in several operational areas.

    After several desk jobs based at RNAS Yeovilton and Navy Command Headquarters in Portsmouth, including being the Career Manager for pilots and air traffic controllers he has finally returned to the cockpit of a Sea King as he the Commanding Officer of 771 NAS. Despite a career based predominately at RNAS Yeovilton, Scott is no stranger to the South West and the delights of Cornwall, his first ever Flying tour was with 814 NAS which lasted three years.

    Lt Cdr Scott Armstrong, the new CO of 771 NAS

    On his new appointment Scott said, “I’m delighted to be back at Culdrose and to take over at 771. I've inherited a fantastic squadron in very good health at an exciting time. 771 plays an important role and is the public face of the RN in the South West, I hope to continue building the community links that the Squadron has developed”.

    2014 will see another busy year for 771 Sqn as it continues to provide search and rescue cover for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The Squadron was the busiest SAR base in England during 2013 conducting 257 rescues. So far this year there has already been 86 call outs and by the end of April 2014 there had been more than 25% extra rescues than the same time during the previous year.​

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    702 & 815 Complete Live Firing of Sea Skuas

    Live firing trials of the Sea Skua missile system were held at MOD Aberporth, West Wales, 11 March 2014.

    Lynx helicopters from 702 and 815 Naval Air Squadrons took part in operation "Aftershock", a live firing trial of the Sea Skua missile system.

    The trials were held at MOD Aberporth, West Wales, where single firing serials and dual firing was conducted in the barnacle formation.

    The trial ran for a period of two weeks with firing crews being changing between firings. The single firing serials were at a towed craft which was constantly moving within the firing range.

    The formation firings were at a large static target moored within the firing range.​

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Royal Navy Signs £500m Weapons Deal with France

    The Ministry of Defence has announced it will equip new helicopters with state-of-the-art missiles after a landmark deal was signed.

    The agreement will see the MoD contribute £280m towards a £500m UK and French government project to arm the Royal Navy's new Wildcat helicopters.

    It is the first time the goverments have signed off a project since last month's Anglo-French summit held at RAF Brize Norton.

    Weighing around 100kg, the missile can destroy small and medium-sized vessels from far away and also has the capability to launch attacks against coastal and ground targets.

    The investment will also sustain around 200 highly-skilled UK jobs and work will take place at arms manufacturer's MBDA sites, in Lostock near Manchester, Bristol and Stevenage. The contract will also protect a further 200 jobs in France.

    Paris had reportedly dragged its feet over the plan due to budget pressures and because its military had no requirement for the weapon until at least the early 2020s.

    The delay means the new AgustaWestland-built Wildcat helicopter due to enter service with the Royal Navy next year will be without either of its two main missile armaments.

    Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Philip Dunne, said: "This highly sophisticated complex weapon system will provide our new Royal Navy Wildcat helicopters with unparalleled strike capabilities."

    A video pulished by the MoD demonstrates the lethal accuracy of the weapon, which will also have new capabilities such as in-flight retargeting.

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Wildcat Sea Trials

    The Royal Navy’s Wildcat helicopter has landed on the flight deck of a Type 45 destroyer, HMS Dragon, at sea as part of sea trials with 700W Naval Air Squadron.

    The Wildcat is the maritime attack variant of the Lynx helicopter. It will begin to replace the Lynx Mk 8 as the Royal Navy’s destroyer and frigate support helicopter from 2015.

    Wildcat at sea

    Capt Iain Lower, the Type 45’s commanding officer, said: ‘Today is a small, but exciting, step in the progression of this new capability and I am delighted that HMS Dragon was able to help. I look forward to seeing what the aircraft can do when we put it through its paces later this month.’

    The Wildcat helicopter will embark on HMS Dragon later this month as part of Exercise Joint Warrior off the Scottish coast.

    Operational sea training with a Type 23 frigate will also commence in the autumn of 2014.

    Wildcat during sea trials

    Lt Cdr Simon Collins, commanding officer of 700W Naval Air Squadron, said: ‘This year will be one of many firsts for the Wildcat crews as we work with our industry partners to get the aircraft to sea as soon as we can. Deck landings on board a Type 45 at sea are a real milestone and it was a pleasure to join the HMS Dragon team to show them what Wildcat can do.’​

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Merlin MkII Sea Trials

    The Merlin Mk 2 is the Navy’s new-and-improved version of the world’s leading anti-submarine helicopter, conducting its initial trials with the Royal Navy’s first line of defence against the threat from underwater foes: the Type 23 frigate.

    Merlin Mk 2 approaching HMS Lancaster​'s helideck

    The Merlin has been in service with the Royal Navy for more than a decade, but is in the middle of a £750m revamp which will see the fleet of helicopters, all based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall, ready to take the fight to submarines until the end of the 2020s.

    Although it looks almost identical outwardly, inside the Mk 2 Merlin is an entirely different beast, fitted with a state-of-the-art touch screen, integrated command system for both flying and fighting.

    Merlin Mk 2 setting down on the deck of HMS Lancaster​

    In its normal configuration, the rear of the helicopter is a mini operations room that uses numerous sensors to detect and identify both submarines and ships on the surface. Those hi-tech consoles can also be quickly removed by Merlin engineers to convert it into a troop carrier or flying ambulance.

    For now, Lancaster is focusing on the basics of working with the new helicopter in the Channel.

    Safely down

    So once the helicopter from 829 Naval Air Squadron – which supplies Type 23 frigates with Merlin’s, aircrew and engineers for operations around the world – was embarked, numerous exercises began.

    Crash on deck exercises were practised that run out the ship’s emergency response organisation, while the Merlin conducted numerous sorties and secondary duties, such as winching a casualty from the frigate’s forecastle.

    With helideck crew

    “I am very proud to be the first to operate a Merlin Mk 2 from a Type 23 Frigate,” said Lt Cdr Simon ‘Stevo’ Stevenson, 01 Flight Commander.

    “It is an exciting time and I am looking forward to working together with HMS Lancaster, testing its capabilities to the max.

    "This short embarkation represents another major step forward of the integration of a vastly capable and complex aircraft into the Royal Navy, ensuring we remain at the forefront of anti-surface and sub-surface warfare.”

    For the Commanding Officer of the Portsmouth-based warship – which was instrumental in trials helping the original Merlin into service nearly 15 years ago – the arrival of the ‘souped-up’ helicopter is a real bonus to Frigate operations.

    “The new Merlin is a huge step forward in capability for the Royal Navy and Lancaster is very privileged to be part of these trials,” said Commander Peter Laughton.

    “In the weeks to come we will be working very closely with Merlin Mk 2 and her crew to ensure its successful introduction into front-line service.”

    Two of the Royal Navy’s four Merlin squadrons have now converted to the upgraded helicopter, which has deployed overseas for the first time (an anti-submarine exercise off Norway).

    The biggest test yet for the new Merlin will be a huge submarine hunt led by HMS Illustrious in June, when eight Mk 2’s are lined up to join the veteran carrier for Exercise Deep Blue in the Atlantic.

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    New UK Naval Helo To Wait at Least 5 Years for Planned Missiles

    Two missiles planned to equip a fleet of new Royal Navy helicopters due to become operational next year won’t enter service until the next decade, Britain’s Ministry of Defence has admitted.

    The British had originally planned to have MBDA’s future air-to-surface guided weapon (heavy), known as FASGW (H), ready when the new AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat maritime attack helicopter entered service in 2015.

    That was to be followed by the installation of a Thales UK-developed lightweight modular missile to meet the FASGW (Light) requirement.

    The new UK Navy Wildcat helicopters will have to wait before receiving planned missiles

    But the MoD admitted last week that while contract developments can be expected soon, the in-service date for both missiles will be much later than planned.

    “FASGW contracts will be awarded as soon as is reasonably practicable in order to support a planned in-service date of late 2020,” a spokeswomen for the MoD said Feb 28.

    Until now, details of the FASGW (H) in-service date have not been revealed ahead of the completion of commercial negotiations between MBDA and its two customers.

    The British are reckoned to be close to announcing as many as three contracts with industry for development of the heavy and light missile types as well as a deal with AgustaWestland’s UK operation to integrate the weapons onto the Wildcat.

    MBDA’s FASGW (H) development has been stalled for several years after the French government dragged its feet over committing to a joint program to build the missile because of pressure on the defense budget. Also, Paris didn’t have a requirement for the weapon until at least the early 2020s.

    Delays in French approval threatened to cause a serious rift in the Anglo-French Defence Treaty before Paris signaled last year it would go ahead with the program.

    The two sides signed a memorandum of understanding to take forward the program, known as the Anti-Navire Leger in France, at the January Anglo-French summit involving UK Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande held at Brize Norton air base in the UK.

    The French 2014-19 multiyear budget law published last year only sets out joint development and certification with the UK on the missile in the six years covered, and sets a delivery of weapons for its military in the next budget law.

    A decision on which French helicopter will be armed with the new missile will depend on talks between the Navy and the procurement officials, with cost one of the factors, said officials in Paris.

    When fitted, the new missiles will give the Wildcat the ability to strike naval targets ranging in size from a corvette down to fast moving small attack craft, as well as land targets.

    FASGW (H) is a 100-kilogram class weapon replacing Sea Skua and the AS15TT; FASGW (L) is a 13-kilogram class missile already ordered by the British MoD.

    Weapons currently fitted to the new helicopter to be deployed on Royal Navy warships include torpedoes and machine guns.

    A National Audit Office (NAO) report into major MoD projects released in early 2013 listed the MBDA weapon as ready for service in January 2018, a date already revised from earlier plans.

    Working on the 2018 date, the report by the government spending watchdog said there would be at least a 19-month gap between the existing capability leaving service and the new missile becoming available.

    Delays to the missile development have raised speculation the British might be looking at using the aging Sea Skua missile, which FASGW (H) is meant to replace, to help close the capability gap caused by the misalignment of the new weapon and new airframe.

    The Sea Skua missile is carried by Royal Navy Lynx Mk8 helicopters. The Mk8s were meant to have gone out of service in 2015, but that exit date for the final airframes was amended to 2018.

    In line with that, the MoD awarded MBDA a £41 million (US $68.4 million) deal a few weeks ago to continue supporting the Sea Skua in service for 27 months with an option to extend by a further 12 months if required.

    The MoD won’t say what, if any, plans it has to further close the gap between Sea Skua and FASGW (H).

    “Plans for the future of Sea Skua are ongoing, and it would be inappropriate to speculate further at this time,” said the MoD spokeswomen.

    The NAO said in the 2013 Major Projects Report that the heavy and light versions of FASGW were fundamental to the Wildcat’s role.

    “Failure to provide a FASGW capability synchronous with Initial Operating Capability will mean significant elements of attack capability will not be available in several mission scenarios.

    “These core attack missions are dependent upon the ability to deliver a proportional and autonomous attack capability for which FASGW Light and Heavy variants are fundamental,” said the report.

    Deliveries of the Wildcat for the Royal Navy started last year and all 28 are scheduled to have been handed over by 2016, when the new-generation machines based on the Lynx are planned to enter service.

    A further 34 Wildcats are being delivered to the British Army. These AW159s will not be equipped with FASGW weapons.

    Wildcat deliveries for the UK started in 2012 and over a third of the 62 aircraft ordered have been handed over by AgustaWestland’s Yeovil, southwest England-based operation.

    The helicopter company also expects next year to start delivering the first of eight AW159s destined for export customer South Korea.

    The South Korean Navy has selected the Spike non-line-of-sight missile from Israeli manufacturer Rafael for its main missile armament.

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Lynx Duo Return to Yeovilton

    Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Yeovilton has welcomed home two Lynx Helicopters as they landed together after months away on separate deployments.

    HMS Daring circled the globe, sailing 44,000 miles during a nine-month deployment with Lynx Flight 200 on board and was re tasked mid operation to assist in the Philippines.

    HMS Westminster Lynx Flight returns from a successful 6 ½ month deployment in the Indian Ocean and Gulf conducting maritime security operations, counter piracy and counter narcotics patrols, covering 36,500 nautical miles.

    200 Flight from HMS Daring and 234 Flight from HMS Westminster land at RNAS Yeovilton

    As Flight Commander Joe Harper brings Daring’s Lynx in to land it marks his last operational flight after 38 years in the Royal Navy, clocking up 6500 flying hours.

    Lieutenant Commander (Lt Cdr) Harper will now bid fond farewell to The Royal Navy. He said “It’s been a fantastic way to bring to a close my 38 year career.

    'Aircraft art' from HMS Daring's 200 Flight

    "We were exercising in the South China Sea when she was re-tasked to the Philippines. Once we received our tasking the plan was immediately drawn together and the aircraft prepared for what was going to be an extremely busy period.

    "It was a devastating situation but a thoroughly rewarding experience for the whole ship’s company.”

    Since in May last year Daring has visited 21 different ports, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, supported anti-piracy operations in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Aden and tracked ballistic targets during trials in the Pacific Ocean.

    When Daring headed west it was to a place no Type 45 had been before – the Panama Canal.

    Daring saw successful science and technology trials in the Pacific Ocean with the US Navy, and made for Australasia to exercise with an international fleet of 18 warships from 12 nations.

    She joined ships from around the world in Sydney Harbour to celebrate the Royal Australian Navy’s 100th birthday, one of around 40 warships from 17 countries, gathered for a spectacular International Fleet Review and the Lynx was involved in the 27 helicopter flypast.

    Lieutenant Commander Joe Harper from HMS Daring is welcomed back at RNAS Yeovilton by senior staff

    The Flight Pilot Hamish Walker said “The airborne view of Sydney Harbour and the iconic bridge was truly fantastic but being surrounded by other aircraft and trying to remain in formation didn’t allow me to fully appreciate it.”

    After her relief efforts in the Philippines Daring continued east for more joint exercises with the Japanese Navy and in the East China Sea with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (Navy).

    HMS Westminster during her maritime security patrols boarded or visited 348 traditional sailing vessels, promoting security and reassuring the maritime community.

    Lieutenant James Benbow is reunited with his family upon arrival

    Now home, both Lynx teams are looking forward to catching up with family and friends, having a well deserved break.

    After 38 years in the Royal Navy accumulating 6500 flying hours, no one has earned it more than Lt Cdr Joe Harper!​

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Merlin on Norwegian cat and mouse adventure

    The eternal battle between hunter and hunted is on again as the Royal Navy’s submarine hunters lock horns with their foe beneath the waves in a major international exercise in the North Sea.

    Three Merlin helicopters from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose have joined their NATO cousins inNorwayfor an 11-day hunt for five submarines lurking off the coast of Stavanger– the ultimate game of cat and mouse.

    As part of ‘Exercise Dynamic Mongoose’ the Culdrose team will work alongside the Norwegian Navy, as well as other European counterparts. Using their state-of-the-art Merlin helicopters, the skills of the aircrew will be tested as they hunt the silent threat below the surface of the sea and protect the ‘Fleet’ from enemies on and above surface.

    Operating from Sola Airbase and HMS KENT, the aircrew will be pursuing hunter-killer class submarines – actively with sonar, and passively by listening to the submarines' movements.

    In addition to two Merlin Mk1 Helicopters which have deployed, the Royal Navy has also sent its newest version of the Merlin helicopter – the very first time that a Merlin Mk2 has been sent overseas. The Merlin fleet, based at Culdrose, is in the midst of a £750m upgrade which will help to keep thehelicopter at the forefront of naval warfare until the end of the 2020s. By deploying the Mk2 to this exercise, aircrew will be able to test its capabilities before it becomes operational later this year.

    The teams of aircrew and engineers from 829 and 820 Naval Air Squadrons will be deployed for the next couple of weeks, swapping their normal Helston home for the dramatic fjords of Norway. HMS KENT’s Merlin Flight, who were already deployed, will continue to patrol UK waters after the exercise in her ongoing role as a high readiness frigate.

    Commander Ben Franklin, Merlin Force Commander, said: “Exercise Dynamic Mongoose provides a fantastic opportunity for our Merlin Squadrons to hone their maritime warfare skills whilst working closely with other NATO, air, surface and sub-surface Forces.We are relishing the opportunity to take part in a testing anti-submarine exercise and show our NATO colleagues just what the Fleet Air Arm and Merlin Helicopter Force is capable of doing.

    “Dynamic Mongoose is a key element of the ongoing need to ensure that the Fleet Air Arm remains at high readiness for operations. It provides the Merlin crews with an excellent opportunity to practice their Anti-Submarine Warfare skills against a variety of exercise ‘adversaries’ not normally encountered in British waters.”

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    UK Speeds Up Sea King Replacement

    London — A planned gap in the British Royal Navy’s air surveillance capability is being reduced by about 18 months after the Defence Ministry agreed to speed up a program to replace Sea King Mark 7 airborne early warning (AEW) helicopters due to go out of service in 2016.

    The decision has resulted in a competition to supply the radar and mission systems for a new AEW capability destined to be fitted to AgustaWestland-built Merlin helicopters moving into full swing. A team from Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Training business and Elta Systems is competing against Thales UK.

    An MoD spokesman said both parties had been “awarded £6.5 million [US $10.6 million] deals to demonstrate and test their competing solutions.”

    A winner is expected to be declared in 2016, the spokesman said.

    On the revised schedule, the in-service date is set for 2018, with initial operating capability planned to be declared the following year.

    The MoD also confirmed that, separate from the radar and mission systems competition, Lockheed Martin UK last year was awarded a £24 million deal to serve as overall prime contractor, running the work to design, develop and demonstrate the program, called Crowsnest.

    According to sources, Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training is believed to be teaming with Israel Aerospace Industries subsidiary Elta to compete against the Thales Cerebrus system, an updated version of the radar used onboard the Sea Kings.
    Lockheed declined to comment on its radar partner.

    Al Potter, the director for Europe at Lockheed’s Mission Systems and Training business, confirmed his company had selected a partner, but said he was not ready to release the name yet.

    The executive said the team had already flown the selected radar on a fixed-wing aircraft as part of the test program. The radar is contained in a pod and is planned to be fitted to existing hard points on the Merlin helicopter.

    At one time, a Northrop Grumman radar using active electronically scanned array technology had been the front-runner for Lockheed’s bid.

    The competition for 10 roll-on/roll-off systems finds Lockheed and Elta pitched against the incumbent supplier, Thales UK.
    The British arm of Thales supplies the Searchwater 2000 radar for a current Sea King surveillance capability which, despite its maritime origins, has seen the chopper widely used by allied forces in landlocked Afghanistan and, before that, Iraq.

    Matt Avison, the Crowsnest director at Thales UK, said the Cerebrus offering would be based on an upgraded version of the radar used on the Sea King.

    “The acceleration decision lends itself to our solution. One of our strengths is based on short-time lines to introduce,” Avison said.

    The Royal Navy has been facing a four-year capability gap between the Sea King airborne surveillance and control helicopters (SKASaCS) being pensioned off and the planned 2020 in-service date of its Merlin-based replacement.

    Under the old timeframe, full operational capability would not have been until 2022 — two years after the new Royal Navy aircraft carrier that the Crowsnest machines were meant to protect enters service.

    Britain is building two 65,000-ton carriers, although due to budget pressures, it may only operate one of the ships. A small order for the first tranche of production F-35B jump-jets, to be operated jointly by the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, is expected imminently.

    Flying trials off the deck of the carrier Queen Elizabeth are scheduled for 2018, with the warship gaining full operating capability in 2020.

    Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the “introduction of Crowsnest 18 months early will ensure HMS Queen Elizabeth has the full range of capabilities when it enters service.”

    The MoD admitted in mid-2013 it was looking again at the timing of the Crowsnest program due to concerns over capability, and the need to dovetail better with Queen Elizabeth’s operational timelines.

    In a letter to the Parliamentary Defence Committee, the then-Defence Minister Andrew Robathan confirmed that even though other assets provided a modest amount of surveillance capability, the gap could not be entirely closed.

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    For those who missed it ..

    2013 Osprey Trophy Awarded for Fleet Air Arm Excellence

    First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff Sir George Zambellas presented the trophy that is awarded annually to the front-line Lynx Flight that has contributed most to the ethos, reputation and standing of the Lynx Wildcat Maritime Force over the previous year.

    First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff Sir George and Lt Mike Curd

    The First Sea Lord said, “This is a chance to reflect on courage and dedication.”
    The Osprey Trophy was awarded to 217 Flight of 815 Naval Air Squadron at Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Yeovilton, home of the Fleet Air Arm.

    It was given in recognition for their work in preparing for and executing a Deployment embarked in FS Surcouf in support of International Counter Piracy Operations. During their embarkation 12 suspected pirates were intercepted and subsequently prosecuted!

    217 Flight, 815 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Yeovilton

    217 Flight received the Osprey Trophy commissioned in 2007 for the second year running and following on from their successful multinational Libya operation.

    Lieutenant (Lt) Mike Curd RN, Flight Commander was delighted and extremely proud to accept this commemorative Trophy on behalf of his Flight from the First Sea Lord.

    Diverse and demanding challenges, not to mention learning to speak French were met by 217 Flight.

    Lt Mike Curd said “It’s the recognition of all that the team has done and how we pulled together in very different and at times difficult circumstances. It was a challenge and we couldn’t have done it without the whole team which is what makes the recognition of the Osprey Trophy so important. I really enjoyed every aspect of the deployment although at times demanding it was a great experience.”

    The Osprey Trophy was commissioned in 2007, in memory of four members of HMS Portland’s Flight who lost their lives in a Lynx helicopter that crashed off the Lizard peninsula in December 2004.

    The Lynx Wildcat Maritime Force was delighted and honoured to be joined by family members of HMS Portland’s Flight.

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Merlin Mk3 upgrades for Commando Helicopter Force

    A third of a billion pounds is to be spent turning RAF Merlins into Fleet Air Arm ones to carry the Royal Marines into battle.

    Whitehall today announced a £330m investment in the nation’s Merlin fleet allowing the RAF’s ‘green’ Mk3 models to be converted ready for front-line operations with the Commando Helicopter Force.

    The 25 upgraded Merlins – the Mk4 – will replace the venerable Sea King Mk4s which are due to be retired in two years’ time.
    The RAF Merlin is battle proven after a decade of operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

    It can carry two dozen troops with kit, or in a ‘flying ambulance’ role, 16 casualties on stretchers. It can also lift artillery pieces, Land Rovers, or five tonnes of equipment slung beneath it if required.

    It doesn’t have a sonar and submarine hunting kit like its Royal Navy counterpart – but it does have a stern ramp for troops to climb on and off.

    To convert them for Fleet Air Arm purposes, the 25 helicopters will receive new glass cockpits and avionics, a folding main rotorhead and tail, and improved undercarriage.

    The upgrade was announced by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond on a visit to AgustaWestland in Yeovilton.
    As well as the investment in the Merlin force, the minister also announced a £430m contract to revamp the Army’s Apache gunships for continued operations around the world.

    The double contracts will secure more than 1,000 jobs in UK engineering and manufacturing, with the work being carried out by AgustaWestland at its sites in Yeovil, Suffolk and Hampshire; GE Aviation in Cheltenham, General Dynamics in East Sussex, Selex ES in Luton and APPH Aviation Services in Cheshire.

    “This is also an important step in ensuring our Armed Forces have the best helicopters available, safeguarding the Army’s Attack Helicopter capability – and providing the Royal Navy and Royal Marines with an upgraded, modern Commando Helicopter Force,” said Mr Hammond.

    “The UK defence industry makes an important contribution to the economy, generating revenue of over £22 billion each year and its highly skilled workforce plays a crucial part in growing our economy. This investment will help secure British jobs, providing security to thousands of workers and their families.”

    Royal Navy and Royal Marines air and ground crew are already working and training side-by-side with their RAF counterparts on the green Merlin at RAF Benson.

    The aircraft are due to be formally transferred to the Fleet Air Arm this autumn and will move to the Commando Helicopter Force’s home at RNAS Yeovilton in due course.

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    RN Flyer Drops in to Former School

    When Chris Southworth made a flying visit to his old primary school the day went down in history as one pupils will definitely remember.

    For the Royal Navy pilot took a break from his duties yesterday to land his Lynx helicopter in the grounds of The Willows Catholic Primary School in Kirkham, near Preston.

    When Chris, now a Lieutenant, learned he was going to be on an exercise in the area he rang his mum Shirley Wilson, who is deputy head at the school.

    The visit was kept a secret from the children but just before the aircraft was due to land the whole school turned out in force.
    Shirley said: “ “We told the children there was a surprise visitor and to bring some wellies to go on the school field, so there was lots of excitement when the helicopter appeared on the horizon.”

    Chris, who left The Willows 25 years ago, said: “I have very fond memories of my time at school so when I found out we were on exercise in the area and my bosses would give permission for us to land on the school grounds
    I was really pleased.“

    I’ve not been back since I was about 10 so rang my mum immediately. She was pleased but then warned me not to mess up the landing.”

    He added: “To fly over Kirkham and then spot all the pupils waving was a real thrill.

    “We often land the Lynx on the back of a small ship so landing on the school field was not too difficult.

    “The children gave us a really warm welcome and it was great to see my mum again. 
“She gave me a tour of the school which was really interesting. Some parts have changed but it still has the same family feel.

    Shirley added: “The faces of the children were amazing and they could see Chris and the crew waving out of the window.”
    She said the whole erupted into a cheer when she gave her son a big hug as he climbed out of the helicopter..

    “I showed him round the school. It’s had lots of work done and we have new uniforms, but he remembered some of the classrooms.

    The proud mum said the children the children were “buzzing for the rest of the day.
    Last edited by Aviafora Newsdesk; 1st February 2014, 08:43.

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