Now firmly established In Service, the Merlin Mk1 is already being deployed in its primary role, operating from the Invincible Class carriers, Type 23 frigates, Royal Fleet Auxiliaries (RFA’s) and other vessels.
Minister for Defence Procurement said: “Merlin is a proven aircraft which has delivered a quantum leap in capability and is crucially important for all types of maritime operations.”
The Merlin Capability Sustainment Programme (MCSP) is a significant phase of the Merlin HM Mk1 Weapon System life cycle that will significantly enhance the Merlin’s future multi-role capability potential in the maritime battlespace of the future. Awarded in 2006, the programme will upgrade 30 of the current Merlin Mk1 fleet to further prepare Merlin to be a major contributor to control of the littoral underwater and above water battlespace and provide wider utility in other roles and scenarios including Operations Other Than War (OOTW) with a platform and mission system architecture that can more easily adapt and grow should new missions demand additional capability.
The investment in MCSP will deliver an overall cost saving of over £500 million through the avoidance of obsolescence and is also forecast to lead to savings in future support costs in excess of £75 million. The programme includes the implementation of an open system architecture, improvements to the mission system processing capability, large area flat panel displays, and new capabilities in the Blue Kestrel Radar and Sonar system. Pilots and Mission Specialists will benefit from an easy to use and powerful Human Machine Interface that will allow them to take full advantage of the improved platform and mission system capabilities.
As mission systems become more versatile so the need for intuitive interfaces increases. Considerable attention is being paid to reducing operator workload whilst making simultaneous control of multiple and diverse functions a true reality.
The first upgraded Merlin Mk2 aircraft, MCSP01, performed its first flight with a functioning mission system in November 2010. In total, four Mk2 trials aircraft are scheduled to fly by the end of August 2011. All aircraft will continue the trials programme from Yeovil before transferring to QinetiQ, Boscombe Down to perform further mission system performance evaluation and Release to Service trials during 2012.
Full rate aircraft conversion at the AgustaWestland Yeovil facility is scheduled to be established in early 2012 with the Merlin Mk2s entering service in 2013 and achieving Full Operational Capability in 2014.
In addition to the Merlin Prime Contract, Lockheed Martin manages two important support contracts for the Merlin Mk1 Weapon System: