A multi-disciplinary team of specialists from the Air Test & Evaluation Centre (ATEC), with exceptionally close stakeholder engagement, has helped the UK Royal Navy to overcome an extremely challenging timescale and delivered both an airborne surveillance capability and guided weapon capability in time for the first operational deployment of the UKs Carrier Strike Group (CSG).
Air Test & Evaluation Centre (ATEC) support to CSG-21 Capability
Whilst ATEC has supported a significant number of programmes to deliver capability to support the new CSG, two programmes have gained prominence in recent months:
- The UK Royal Navy’s Crowsnest system has been developed to provide a vital surveillance capability to support the UK Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth Class carriers. Role-fitted to Merlin HM Mk 2 helicopters, it uses a high power radar to provide long-range air, maritime and land detection and tracking capabilities that will ensure early detection of potential threats and vital surveillance capabilities for the entire fleet.
- The Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapons (FASGW) programme, introduces the Martlet missile as a role fit, to the Wildcat HMA Mk2 (Wt2). The FASGW modification also comprises a weapon-wing, associated hard-points, sights and sensors to the aircraft and transforms the aircraft to a ‘compound-helicopter’ as the wings produce lift.
ATEC has been supporting both programmes since inception, predominantly through Independent Technical Evaluation of the Design Organisation’s safety case to support a Release to Service (RTS). However, with the pressing need of the CSG-21 deployment to accelerate both programmes to provide key capability to meet operational need, ATEC looked at alternate ways of delivery to expedite the capability.
In support of both programmes, ATEC formed a dedicated team of specialist engineers (from QinetiQ), test pilots (from the Rotary Wing Test & Evaluation Squadron) and trials officers (from 744 Naval Air Squadron) to work in collaboration with key stakeholders from MOD and industry to gather the evidence required to provide advice and recommendations for the clearances. The ATEC team used novel reporting methods and sourced evidence to support safety arguments to provide assured arguments to generate RTS recommendations for each air-system capability.
In the case of FASGW, an embarked SHOL trial was required, which ATEC was able to deliver in extraordinary timescales thanks to collaborative working with the Royal Navy and MOD to deliver with minimal preparation time and overcoming a number of challenges in execution from both weather and asset availability.
On 19 March 2021 the first Crowsnest-equipped Merlin HM Mk 2 flew from the factory in Yeovil to UK Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Culdrose, under the in-service RTS clearance recommended by the ATEC team to conduct pre-deployment training for CSG-21. The ATEC team supporting this achievement was recently awarded a Deputy Commander Operations and Air Member for Operations Commendation in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Following delivery of key inputs from ATEC, FASGW’s operational capability was agreed enabling a critical part of the Carrier Strike Group capability as it deployed on operation. The volume and pace of work delivered across the Helicopters Portfolio team in recent months to support the Customer in achieving this critical capability has been phenomenal – once again ATEC demonstrating our ability to make a difference, protect sovereign interests and deliver when required.
[Note - QinetiQ and the Air & Space Warfare Centre conduct military aircraft test and evaluation activities under the UK MOD-QinetiQ Long Term Partnering Agreement (LTPA). This element of the LTPA, which includes the approved framework for operating UK military-registered aircraft and the Government aerodrome at MOD Boscombe Down, is referred to as the Air Test and Evaluation Centre (ATEC).]