Thales UK’s Searchwater 2000 airborne early warning (AEW) radar, fitted as part of the Cerberus mission system in the Royal Navy (RN) Sea King Mk7s currently deployed in Afghanistan, has been playing a critical role in helping crews combat Taliban operations with its state-of-the-art surveillance capability.
During recent operations, deployed Sea King crews have described the radar as ‘unique’ and both British and coalition partners have stated that it is a ‘key contributory factor’ in protecting civilians and military personnel from the insurgents, providing the essential ‘eyes’ for the land force commander.
Use of the Searchwater radar over land demonstrates the inherent flexibility of the system that was originally designed to provide airborne force protection for RN task groups at sea.
Operating out of Camp Bastion, the Sea King crews are tasked with land surveillance, supporting ground troops and collecting invaluable data, which is then analysed further to build a picture of the pattern of life in Helmand Province. The Sea King detachment is shared on a rotational basis between 854 and 857 Naval Air Squadrons, normally based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall.
Speaking of the ongoing tempo of current operations, Commander Pat Douglas, Sea King Force Commander, says: “Having now been operating in Afghanistan for two years, the Mark 7 Sea King has become central to the ongoing fight against the insurgents. Daily involved in the battle to stem the flow of improvised explosive devices, drugs and people who aim to harm both our forces and the Afghanistan nationals, I am very proud of the contribution the RN is able to make, even though we are a long, long way from the sea.”
Thales has been involved in providing the RN’s rotary wing AEW capability since the early 1980s when a force protection capability gap was graphically identified during the 1982 Falklands War when a number of surface ships were sunk by enemy aircraft. The Sea King AEW Mk2 was rushed into service to fill this gap carrying a modified Searchwater radar transferred from the Royal Air Force’s Nimrod MR aircraft.
After winning the contract for a system mid-life update in 1997, Thales delivered an upgraded and enhanced Searchwater 2000 AEW radar as part of the Cerberus mission system. The upgraded aircraft was re-designated the Sea King Mk7.
As well as the Searchwater radar, Cerberus also has the benefit of a fully integrated Link 16 data link, integrated automatic identification system, secure communications and inertial navigation/GPS navigation to provide a comprehensive airborne surveillance and control (ASaC) capability. Thales was the prime contractor for the Sea King Mk7 programme and delivered the first aircraft in 2002 on time and to budget.
Further enhancements to the Cerberus mission system have allowed the RN to develop the aircraft’s overland capability such that it can now make a significant con¬tribution to intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) in the land battle while still retaining ASaC and maritime force protection capabilities.
This is not the first time that these helicopters have been tested in the heat of battle: Shortly after the Mk7 entered RN service, it was deployed to Iraq as part of Operation ‘Telic’ for maritime force protection, fighter control and increasingly for developing situation awareness in the littoral and overland in support of ground forces. In both theatres it has proved its worth, providing a flexible, reactive and unique ISTAR capability, able to operate equally well from land or sea.
Thales is a global technology leader for the defence & security and the aerospace & transport markets. In 2010 the company generated revenues of £11.2 billion (€13.1 billion), with 68,000 employees in 50 countries. With its 22,500 engineers and researchers, Thales has a unique capability to design, develop and deploy equipment, systems and services that meet the most complex security requirements. Thales has an excep¬tional international footprint, with operations around the world working with customers as local partners.
Thales UK employs 8,000 staff based at 35 locations. In 2010 Thales UK’s revenues were around £1.5 billion.