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AW159 Wildcat conducts first firings of Thales Martlet missile


May 28, 2020
By Helicopters Staff


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The Martlet launchers are mounted to the AW159 Wildcat via the new Leonardo Weapon Wing, developed at the company’s design and manufacturing facility in Yeovil and first trialled last year. (Photo: Leonardo)

Leonardo and Thales announced the first successful firings of the Thales Martlet Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM) from Leonardo’s AW159 Wildcat helicopter. The firings were conducted as part of the UK MoD’s Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (FASGW) program and demonstrated the integration of the Martlet onto the AW159 platform.

Leonardo notes this represents a major milestone for the program and will enable this high-end capability to enter service with the Royal Navy later this year. The firing trials were conducted from April 27 to May 21, with all of the teams involved adopting strict distancing procedures based on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This major milestone demonstrates that the combination of the AW159 Wildcat and Martlet missile will be a flexible and effective tool for the Royal Navy,” said Nick Whitney, managing director of Leonardo Helicopters UK. “Next year the Wildcat fleet will embark on Carrier Strike Group missions with HMS Queen Elizabeth on its maiden operational deployment. As the only British company to design and manufacture helicopters on-shore, we’re extremely proud to be equipping the UK Armed Forces with world-beating sovereign capabilities.”

In July 2014, Leonardo signed a contract with the UK Ministry of Defence to integrate, test and install the MBDA Sea Venom (heavy) and Thales LMM (light) missile systems onto Royal Navy AW159 Wildcat helicopters, a program called Future Anti Surface Guided Weapon (FASGW).

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“The successful live firings of the Thales LMM Martlet from the AW159 Wildcat is a key milestone in the program, delivering a significant step-change in capability for the platform,” said Philip McBride, GM, Integrated Airspace-protection Systems, Thales UK. “LMM Martlet will ensure that the Wildcat has the best-in-class offensive capability to protect HMS Queen Elizabeth and her task group during her maiden operational deployment next year. With each platform capable of carrying up to 20 Martlet, the Wildcats deployed with the task group will be a significant deterrent to anyone wishing to interfere with UK interests.”

The companies explain the FASGW (light) part of the program has now seen the LMM, with its associated launcher and airborne laser guidance unit, successfully integrated into the Leonardo AW159 Wildcat sensor, displays and avionics systems. They continue to explain the LMM provides a step-change in capability for the Royal Navy which, in the maritime environment, faces a major challenge in engaging smaller, fast-moving, asymmetric threats, due to their high mobility, their small thermal and radar signatures and the severe background clutter encountered. The LMM is capable of surmounting these issues where traditional electro-optic and radar guidance systems do not provide the certainty of hit required.

On-board the AW159 Wildcat platform, the LMM Martlet could also allow operators to engage air targets such as UAVs and other maritime helicopters.

The launchers are mounted to the AW159 via the new Leonardo Weapon Wing, developed at the Company’s design and manufacturing facility in Yeovil and first trialled last year. Each weapon wing will be able to carry either 10 Martlet or two Sea Venom missiles and generates additional lift for the helicopter in forward flight, reducing demands on the main rotor.

Leonardo explains the twin-engine multi-role AW159 is able to conduct missions ranging from constabulary to high end warfighting where it has the capability to autonomously detect, identify and attack targets on land and at sea, including submarine threats. The platform has state-of-the-art systems, including a Leonardo Seaspray multi-mode electronically-scanning (E-scan) radar, and integrated electronic warfare Defensive Aids Suite (DAS).

Over 50,000 flight hours have been logged by the helicopter. The AW159 has also been chosen by the British Army, the Republic of Korea Navy and the Philippine Navy as a new maritime operator of the helicopter.