Royal Navy Helos Get New Defenses

British Royal Navy Merlin Mk1 helicopters

February 16, 2009, London -- A handful of British Royal Navy Merlin Mk1 helicopters are flying with new defenses purchased through an urgent operational requirement to help the aircraft function in front-line operations.

The defensive suite "represents a step-change in Merlin's operational capabilities that can now comprise new roles and theatre environments," Lockheed Martin officials said in a Feb. 16 statement.

The Merlin Mk1 is primarily an anti-submarine helicopter, but with the mission system dropped out the rotorcraft can quickly be deployed for casualty evacuation, force protection, search and rescue, and other roles.

Lockheed, BAE Systems, QinetiQ and others combined to integrate, test and fit the new gear to the aircraft in a 7 million pound ($10.1 million) contract awarded by the Ministry of Defence in January 2008.

A spokesman for the U.K. arm of Lockheed declined to say how many helicopters were involved in the upgrade program.

The upgrade is part of the MoD's wider Merlin capability enhancement effort under a separate urgent operational requirement.

Some Merlins are to get full-motion cameras that can send imagery to the ground and a Westcam MX15 optical pod.

Trials on the sensor system are to start soon, said Royal Navy officers at a recent celebration to mark the arrival of the first Type 45 destroyer to its home base in Portsmouth, southern England. (

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