744 Naval Air Squadron will be instrumental in introducing the Crowsnest Merlin to front-line service over the next 18 months, say the Royal Navy.

In addition, they will also work with the RAF’s upgraded Chinook Mk5s and Mk6s.

The Royal Navy say that it’s the squadron’s later role in testing, evaluation and development which was prompted its 21st Century rebirth under the motto ‘nemo solus satis sapit’ – no one individual knows enough on their own.

The re-formed squadron’s first Commanding Officer Commander Jonathan Bird said 744 Squadron “brings together the operational experience from the majority of defence’s front-line aircraft types and weaponry, to ensure that new aircraft, weapons and upgrades to existing platforms are safe and as fit for purpose as possible.”

“It is an even bigger privilege to be at the helm when the squadron re-commissions – exactly 62 years to the day that the previous commanding officer flew his final squadron sortie before the unit was disbanded at RAF St Mawgan.”

In 2017, Lockheed Martin was awarded a £269m contract to deliver the Royal Navy’s Crowsnest Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC) programme.

As the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin is responsible for the overall design and development of Crowsnest, which will provide a vital surveillance capability to support the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth Class carriers.

Crowsnest uses a high power radar to provide long-range air, maritime and land tracking capabilities that will ensure early detection of potential threats for the fleet.

This capability will be role fitted onto the Merlin Mk2 helicopters and deployed in support of various Royal Navy vessels including the fleet flagships HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

Crowsnest incorporates an updated version of a Thales Searchwater radar and Cerberus Mission System which are deployed as role fit kits along with the Merlin Mk2 helicopters. This will allow the Royal Navy to adjust the configuration of the airframe depending on the mission.


  1. Still not sure that thi is the best use of an already stretched merlin force 🙁 and would hope either aw609 or v22 could be purchased for this role, my understanding is the higher you get, the greater the radar horizon – helicopters are not really designed for the role. sea king AEW served well, but in the days of long range aams this could potentially be a dangerous employment of these vital assets. But saving a few pounds is obviously more important, it does seem idiotic that we spend large sums of money on carriers and aircraft then not only reduced asw cover but also use the fantastic asw assets for a role they’re not suitable for leaving our expensive investment vulnerable. Surely any cost risk/benefit analysis would recommend a tilt rotor even using the same sensor package we’re talking about probably 10 aircraft max and possibly even get away with 7!

  2. I think we should go for a standard turbo prop for this – I have seen some video of the greyhound landing on forrester class in the 60’s and engines etc are far better now. Suspect it can take off and land on QEC without drama. Wonder why this hasn’t been looked into.

    Fairly inexpensive as well I think.

    Alternatively the Taranis platform surely lends itself to this and refuelling duties, so why not pursue that option as well

    • C2 can’t land on the QE without traps. Not a chance. Nor would it have the power to get off the hard deck. Don’t worry this issue will be rectified in about 30 years…

    • What might be developed in the next decade is a tilt rotor UAV because the USMC want to provide AEW among other capabilities for their amphibs. per article www dot thedrive.com/the-war-zone/23835/bell-unveils-v-247-vigilant-tilt-rotor-combat-drone-mock-up-at-usmc-tech-expo?iid=sr-link4

      The V-247 would target a similar service ceiling of 25,000 vs the V-22 but with a range of 1,400 nm and endurance of 17 hours according to Wikipedia. Likely to be much more affordable than V-22 with far greater utility due to the endurance which would also mean potentially fewer air frames required to provide continuous coverage.

    • The Greyhound is put in the air via catapults and lands with arrestor hooks. It has no chance of being used on the QE. We really should have fitted cats even if we thought we might rarely need them. They would not have raised the cost significantly had they been put in at design stage.

  3. We should also have drones in this role, they can stay up for far longer and no doubt would cost less. But is HMS QE flight deck long enough to launch and land drones without arestor wire ect??. And the drones could be programmed for automatic landing and takeoff to make it easier for the Drone Pilots….. If the decks not long enough for existing drones we could easily develope a current drone for the purpose if needed… And there is space on both Carriers below deck to incorporate Drone pilots flight OP rooms…

      • Agree, We should get on board with the USMC on their drone program. Not only AEW but Also Electronic Attack all specially tailored to work with the F35B.

        In theory this could put the capabilities of the QE class beyond the capabilities of the Nimitz Class operating F18G and E2.

  4. 744 is a test and evaluation squadron. Once the aircraft are fully evaluated and procedures published it will disband. It is likely that crowsnest equipped Merlin’s will remain as a flight within thier main squadron, ie 820 A flt within 820 ASW squadron. It is not anticipated that 744 will transform into 849. If that was to be the case the trials squadron would probably named as 700C (700 crowsnest) as 700 is usually used as a transititional squadron number.

    • Ahh, thanks Basil.

      I knew it was a T&E outfit like the RAF’s 206R Sqn but didn’t know about the 700 convention.

  5. My guess we are waiting for the US to invest in the refueling and aew role for the v22 or similar and the consider buying. Today that option doesn’t exist outside PowerPoint and so we would have to invest heavily to make it happen, which isn’t good use of our limited resources, not when the Merlin does 90% of the job.

    Rebuilding the stored merlins is a different story and should be a no brianer, considering the sub threat that is now out there.

    • What carrier AEW??


      The Zephyr flies at the edge of space, bit of an overkill.

      I think its launched by blokes running along with it, love to see that on the QEC!

      • As I understand it the critical issues would be height of the radar, endurance, payload and power. A Zephyr’s endurance and power availability is steadily improviding, endurance is already measured in months, so how long before you launch it in the UK when the carrier leaves, and it just hangs around above the thing permanently?

        Height – well as you say – edge of space. That’ll do nicely thank you.

        Payload and power – now that is an issue and will be for a while yet I guess. But things are moving quickly. Ten years from now, who knows?

  6. just say that the aw609 is being marketed in military roles on leonardo website they also mention developing fuel tanks for military use being cheaper than v22 and pressurised i think it is one of the better options (the others can fly high but i understand masks might be needed) plus pretty much all aew are civilian based anyway. However a uav is another great option as i guess it would remove the need fo pressurisation


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