BOASTING a fearsome armoury, this state-of the-art helicopter is the Royal Navy’s latest recruit which will play a vital role in protecting its fleet around the world.
The £26 million Wildcat attack helicopter, so powerful it can blow a submarine out of the water, will replace the Lynx fleet, which has served the Fleet Air Arm since the mid-70s.
Yesterday the chopper, which is fitted with the latest sensors, equipment and weapons, took its first flight from its base in Yeovil, Somerset.
The Wildcat will be used in the fight against pirates, as well to protect the navy’s fleet. They will fly from the decks of frigates and destroyers. The helicopter can carry forward-firing rockets, machine guns, door-mounted machine guns, an air-to-surface system and can deploy torpedoes and depth charges.
Other features of the Wildcat include a fuselage which is protected with a composite material similar to that used for soldiers’ body armour, so it is difficult to pierce with ground fire.
The twin-engine helicopter is also kitted out with state-of-the-art radar to search for enemy ships and vehicles, penetrating sonar to hunt for subs and electronic surveillance measures such as 360-degree infrared imaging cameras.
Manned by two crew members and carrying up to seven passengers, the helicopter is also able to fend off missile attacks with a sophisticated self-defence system.
Chief of naval staff, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, said: “As a ship-borne helicopter, Wildcat will provide commanders with a flexible attack capability which can be deployed to tackle a range of threats at sea and from the sea.
“With state-of-the-art sensors, equipment and weapons, it will be an outstanding asset that will maintain Royal Naval units at the cutting edge of worldwide maritime operations.”
The Ministry of Defence signed a £250m contract with AgustaWestland last year to provide support and training for the navy and army’s 62-strong fleet of Wildcat Helicopters.
The Royal Navy will receive 28 maritime attack variant helicopters, which will begin operations across the globe from 2015.
Minister for defence equipment, support and technology, Philip Dunne, said: “The new maritime Wildcat attack helicopter is an excellent addition to the Royal Navy’s arsenal, providing it with greater firepower and a range of technological enhancements.
“The support and training contract with AgustaWestland is also good news for the local economy in Somerset, securing 500 highly skilled jobs in the defence sector.”
The new helicopter was displayed for the first time at the Farnborough International Air Show in July last year.
Speaking about the new fleet at the event, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “This new fleet of Wildcat helicopters will provide a fantastic capability for our armed forces – on land and at sea.
“Wildcat represents a considerable advance over the current Lynx helicopters, bringing greatly improved performance and capability.”
The name Wildcat recalls the name given to the American-built Grumman F4F carrier-borne fighter, which was widely used by the Allies during the Second World War. It was named Martlet by the British.
The aircraft ceased operational service in 1945 but some remain flying, including one at the Imperial War Museum Duxford.