The deal will see Lockheed Martin start manufacturing Crowsnest, a helicopter-borne airborne early warning and control system for the Queen Elizabeth class carriers.

Under Secretary of State for Defence Procurement Minister Harriett Baldwin announced the deal today onboard Type 45 Destroyer HMS Dragon.

According to a press release:

“The Crowsnest project will act as the Royal Navy’s eyes and ears for its next generation carriers, giving long range detection as well as the capability to track potential threats.

Crowsnest will be able to support wider fleet and land operations, replacing the Sea King helicopter’s Airborne Surveillance and Control capability that has been deployed on regular operations since 1982.

Lockheed Martin, as q prime contractor for Crowsnest, will integrate the selected Thales solution on to the Merlin Mk2 helicopter fleets. This work will be supported by Leonardo Helicopters, who will modify the fleet to fit Crowsnest. The contract also includes £9 million for initial provisioning of spares to support the Crowsnest system during training and operational deployment.”

According to material accompanying the announcement, the Thales solution is an updated and improved version of the Cerberus tactical sensor suite, currently in service on the Sea King Mk7 helicopter.

Crowsnest will be fitted to Merlin Mk2 helicopters, the image below is an infographic provided by the Ministry of Defence.

The Crowsnest System will be the eyes and ears of the Royal Navy.

Chief Executive Officer of the MOD’s Defence Equipment and Support body, Tony Douglas, said:

“Crowsnest will play a key role in protecting the Royal Navy’s future fleet acting as the eyes and ears for the new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers. This state-of-the-art project will demonstrate how we are providing world-leading, innovative equipment to our Armed Forces.

This contract will also sustain hundreds of UK jobs in the process, highlighting how the MOD, through DE&S, can create a positive and collaborative partnership with industry, benefitting both our Armed Forces and the UK economy.”

Air Vice-Marshal Julian Young, Director Helicopters at the MoD’s Defence Equipment and Support organisation, said:

“Crowsnest will form an integral part of future carrier operations and act as the Royal Navy’s eyes and ears, providing protection through early warning and surveillance.

We have accelerated our programme delivery strategy in order to sustain the capability seamlessly through our Merlin Mk2 helicopters as the Sea King Mk7 fleet retires from service in 2018, and we are confident that the programme will be delivered as planned.”

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The MoD has spent more than 15 years and £27 Million on the CROWSNEST project examining options replace the 13 ASaC Sea Kings that provide critical airborne early warning for the fleet. Finally in May 2015 it was announced that the updated Thales Cerberus system has been selected. In stark contrast to this lumbering process, the original helicopter-borne AEW system was developed on a shoestring in a matter of weeks and rushed into service in the wake of Falklands War. The chosen Thales solution will probably be adequate but it is the cheapest and lowest risk option, simply a development… Read more »


This is obviously an essential contract when people stop and actually think about the extensive use the UK made of the baggers.
One more important step forward in bringing the QEC into front line service.

Nick Bowman

This is a sensible step interim step but, obviously, helicopter-borne awacs is fundamentally flawed. Drones are the future of awacs. I envisage four to six high-endurance drones working together. They would be networked together so that they could carry smaller radars than conventional awacs aircraft and still achieve 360 degree, persistent, coverage. Think how powerful the internet is – lots of linked small computers. Apply that concept to drones/awacs.

Ian Roberts

Cab numbers though – so very low. What about bringing back those 12 mothballed Merlins as a start?


So if this is just the contract to enable Crowsnest to be fitted to any of the Merlin Mk2’s, how many Crowsnest will actually be purchased?

Based on the seeming omission of this data, may we guess less than needed?

By the way, where’s the obligatory mention of the mythical 178 billion new equipment plan? At some point these shysters really need to be challenged on what exactly is being acquired and over how many decades.

David Stone

Rest assured Minister for Defence Procurement Harriett Baldwin, did not let the occasion pass without the usual comment “Backed by our rising Defence budget, and our £178 billion equipment plan, Crowsnest will help keep our Armed Forces safe as they deploy in every ocean around the world for decades to come.”

It seems a shame to me that they pulling away Mk 2 Merlins from other jobs for this purpose, when we have 12 Mk 1 airframes mothballed and gathering dust. I hope there is a btter reason for that other than the usual “we can’t afford it”

Barry Larking

At 269 million GBP this is slightly more than we give to India in aid in a year. India. That India. The one with a nuclear arsenal and space programme.

Is it me?


And I think that I read somewhere that, post-referendum in 6 months or so when the full year of currency exchange data is available and new rankings of size of economies is published based on revised normalised US Dollar values, France is the one that is likely to push the U.K. to 6th biggest economy in the world but at the same time in will jump India to push us down to 7th. So yes, nuclear power, space program, AND probably soon to be confirmed as a bigger economy than the U.K. “5th biggest economy in the world” another tiresome… Read more »


You forgot to mention Barry that India with a bigger Army, Navy and Air Force than we do and never seems to stop ordering new Gucci kit! It’s enough to make you weep especially when the Foreign Aid lot are sitting on 5Bn pounds that they literally can’t give away fast enough! Scandalous!! Will this country ever learn….

David Southern

And they keep buying Russian and French military equipment.

David Stone

To be fair to India, they were a bit bemused that we kept thrusting the dosh at them even when they said they were more than able to cope without it (hence the nukes and space programme).
Also, didn’t this aid package actually stop into 2015?

John Stevens

I thought Uk Government was going to stop giving international aid to India, i could be mistaken on that info: though..

Perhaps somebody on here could clarify that ?


So, how many units will this £270m deal purchase?

Mike R

According to Lockheed Martin UK press release today, it will be for all ten units as originally contracted for to be fitted to any of the thirty Merlin Hm2’s that have been upgraded.


We currently have a RN test pilot flying AW609’s suspect a but of 10 at some point, already pressurised unlike the Osprey

Andy Crisp

Should been based on osprey. We will need to buy some anyway at somepoint to enable replenishing the ship ie fly in new f35 engine.


The EV-22 – the AEW variant of the Osprey that is currently only on the drawing board. First, it can operate off American LHAs/LHDs. Second, based on the performance of other Osprey variants, the EV-22 is likely to score respectably in key AEW attributes such as endurance and service ceiling. With an endurance of five hours and a service ceiling of 24,700 feet, the Osprey is a more capable machine compared to AEW helicopters, say the RN’s AW101 Merlin, whose corresponding figures are under five hours and 15,000 ft respectively. In stark contrast, the carrier-based E-2 Hawkeye has an endurance… Read more »


Ospreys would be fantastic and agreed they are better than a helo option but are too expensive; that means none for the RN unfortunately….


No it is not. No work is being done on an AEW Osprey.

Andy Crisp

Rumour special forces are getting them. Secondly we will need an aircraft to act as standby tanker for returning aircraft- the osprey is already being developed for this.


Just to clarify Andy; the SAS is getting only ONE Osprey to move Sabre Squadron more quickly around the U.K. to support operations.

Daniele Mandelli

Source for this info?

Andy Crisp

One won’t work – needs a minimum 2 sndcgjven the supposed budget for this it would be more than one. I bet the RN is planning on asking marine Coro to put their ospreys on the carriers.


I agree Andy but one was what the article stated – for what that’s worth – due to cost. Again, pure speculation and when it comes to Special Forces no one will ever really know anyway.

Simon D

I’ve been told that The radar system will role fit, thus making the Merlin Mk2 a multi role aircraft i.e. Either ASW or AEW, and that ten kits will be procured

Daniele Mandelli

The problem with this is they are using some of the 30 Merlin which should be for ASW instead of properly replacing the Sea King ASCS, rather than the spare cabs already mentioned by others.
The usual robbing Peter to pay Paul, despite the supposed “growing budget.”

Just look what is happening to the army at the moment under their supposed rising budget.

Andy Crisp

That rising budget just winds me up ! Only reason we hit 2% is cos they included the security services budget and pension contributions which most of not all other NATO countries don’t include!!


We know the old Sea King system was heavily used by the Royal Navy, but what we do not know is if it is any good.

From what i understand the radar dates back to the Falkland war, a period where the royal navy radars had a number of serious issues with tracking targets over land.

Was this a issue that the old Sea King system suffered or was this solved through upgrades?

How does the radar compare to the ones fitted to the f35’s?