Fleet Air Arm
Fleet Air Arm – The aviation arm of the RN. During its heyday in the 1950s, it numbered many squadrons of fighters, bombers, early warning aircraft and helicopters operating from aircraft carriers. Today it is a shadow of its former self, being a helicopter-only service. The last purely naval fixed-wing aircraft were decommissioned in March 2006.
Large, sophisticated and effective 3-engined anti-submarine helicopter. This aircraft is now the mainstay of the Fleet Air Arm. 30 of the RN’s 37 Merlins are in the process of being upgraded to HM2 standard with a new mission system and digital cockpit.
EH101 Merlin HC4
After much prevarication from the RAF, the sensible decision has been made to transfer their HC3 Merlins to the CHF to replace their ancient Sea Kings. 25 aircraft will ‘navalised’ and called Merlin HC4. This dismally slow programme will deliver the first batch of 7 by 2018 with the delivery of all 25 aircraft not be complete until the early 2020s.
Sea King Mk4
These venerable aircraft are the mainstay of the RN’s Commando Helicopter Force which provides assualt helicopters for the Royal Marines. Know for their bravery, flexibility and can-do spirit the “Junglies” have proven themselves supporting the 3 Cdo Brigade is a succession of conflicts. All Sea Kings in UK service are due to be retired in 2016 and the CHF will have to make do with a few non-navalized Merlin HC3s until the HC4s are delivered.
Sea King Mk7
Fitted with radar in a bag bolted to the airframe in the wake of the Falklands war, these Airborne Surveillance and Control aircraft provide radar coverage for the fleet to warn of air or missile attack. They have recently returned after 5 years supporting ground operations in Afgahnistan. Due for replacement by Merlins carrying a radar in a similar arrangement under the ‘Crowsenest’ programme which has been advanced to ensure HMS Queen Elizabeth will have airborne early warning aircraft when she goes to sea around 2020.
Versatile, fast, twin-engine helicopter operated from frigates and destroyers in general purpose role – ASW with (Stingray torpedoes), Anti shipping (with Sea Skua Missiles) and general reconnaissance, search & rescue. Has been in service with the RN since 1981 but has been significantly upgraded over time.
The RN is due to receive 28 new Lynx Wildcat helicopters from 2015 which look similar to the Lynx they will replace but have 95% new components. Currently undergoing test-flying and trials at sea. Will carry the FASGW missile which replaces the Sea Skua but do not have dipping sonar which reduces their usefulness in the anti-submarine role.
F35B Joint Strike Fighter / Lightning II
A 5th generation, stealthy, supersonic, fighter and strike aircraft able to take-off and land vertically, the F35B promises a great deal and, if it works as advertised, will be a giant leap in capability for british naval aviation. The world’s most expensive defence project has been extremely controversial and there are still serious doubts about the aircrafts capabilities and huge cost. The UK is expected to purchase 48 in total but when they will be delivered and become operational is uncertain. Despite being the aircraft carrier’s main armament they are a ‘joint asset’ shared with the RAF who see them as the replacement for their Tornadoes.