The UK Royal Navy has conducted the test-firing of the new Martlet missile from a Leonardo AW159 Wildcat helicopter on a range off the coast of Wales this week.
In 0.3 seconds, the missile detached from the Wildcat HMA Mk2 helicopter, accelerating to one and a half times the speed of sound. The firing was captured with high-resolution cameras so the teams from both Thales, the missile manufacturer, and the Leonardo Helicopters, the manufacturer of Wildcat, can analyse the system in minute detail.
The trials mark an important milestone in the testing of the new system which will arm the Wildcat helicopters that deploy as part of the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth’s maiden operational deployment next year.
“This test firing shows the Wildcat helicopter will be ready to help defend our Queen Elizabeth-class carriers and their strike groups for years to come,” said Commander Matt Boulind Royal Navy, the Wildcat Maritime Force Commander. “The Royal Navy and Army introduced Wildcat helicopters into service five years ago and the firing of the Martlet this week is a very significant milestone and represents a huge success for the joint industry and MoD team. This firing underpins future Royal Navy offensive capability and the defence of the surface fleet.”
Captain Mark Langrill, DE&S Wildcat Delivery Team Leader, said it was important these trials went ahead.
“These firings mark a vital step forward in the integration of the uniquely flexible Martlet missile into what is already an outstanding helicopter to provide the Royal Navy with a world-class capability,” he said. “I am grateful to all those, across industry and the Ministry of Defence, who have worked so hard to achieve this milestone.”
According to the Royal Navy, the preparation for the firing was conducted in line with current government social distancing rules due to the coronavirus which added an “unexpected hurdle” for the teams involved to overcome.
Philip McBride, general manager of Integrated Airspace-protection Systems as Thales UK, said: “Martlet will ensure the Wildcat has the best-in-class offensive capability to protect the carrier strike group. With each helicopter capable of carrying up to 20 missiles, the Wildcats deployed will be a significant deterrent to anyone wishing to interfere with UK interests.”
Nick Whitney, Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters, added: “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. 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.’”
Martlet/Lightweight Multi-role Missile (LMM)
Martlet is the Royal Navy designation for Thales’ Lightweight Multi-role Missile (LMM). Managed by the Lightweight and Medium Attack Systems and Wildcat delivery teams at the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD)’s Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S), the laser-sensor missile can be used against stationary and moving targets.
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 programme called Future Anti Surface Guided Weapon (FASGW).
The LMM missile is to take out small boats which posed a threat to the fleet, with Sea Venom for dealing with larger warships. 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 ten Martlet or two Sea Venom missiles and generates additional lift for the helicopter in forward flight, reducing demands on the main rotor.
Martlet has already been successfully launched off Type 23 frigate HMS Sutherland so the latest firing was to test it in its primary role.
Before that, the LMM missile was launched against Banshee drones from shoulder-launcher during testing by Royal Marines at the Air Defence Range Manorbier in southwest Wales, and also against small boat target from a land-based launcher as part of the Integration testing phase conducted by Thales at Royal Artillery Air Defence Range at Manorbier.
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 high-performance 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.