A Leonardo Helicopters AW159 Wildcat HMA2 – belonging to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm (FAA) – has successfully test-fired Thales’ Martlet Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM) for the first time.
The milestone came during firing trials which were conducted off the coast of Wales from April 27 to May 21 under the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MOD’s) Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (FASGW) programme.
Leonardo and Thales supported the recent trials, observing current COVID-19 procedures – such as strict social distancing rules – to make sure testing could take place. The FASGW programme is being led by the MOD’s Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) department’s Lightweight and Medium Attack Systems and Wildcat delivery teams.
Cdr Matt Boulind, commander of the Royal Navy’s Wildcat Maritime Force, said: “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… This firing underpins future Royal Navy offensive capability and the defence of the surface fleet.”
When operational, the Martlet missile will be integrated onto Wildcat helicopters that will deploy with HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) on the aircraft carrier’s first operational deployment next year.
As well as the Thales-developed Martlet missile, the test campaign has confirmed the successful integration of Leonardo’s Weapon Wing launch platform and its associated laser guidance unit on the AW159 maritime utility helicopter.
According to Thales, “the LMM provides a step-change in capability for the Royal Navy which, in the maritime environment, faces a major challenge in engaging smaller, fast-moving, asymmetric threats, due to their high mobility, their small thermal and radar signatures and severe background clutter encountered. [It] is capable of surmounting these issues where traditional electro-optic and radar guidance systems do not provide the certainty of hit required.”
In 2019, the Royal Navy and Thales conducted a series of successful ship-launched firing tests of the Martlet missile from the HMS Sutherland (F81) – a Type 23 frigate. Thales said that “these firings confirmed that LMM (Martlet) offers a mature, low-cost, high-value solution to strengthen the inner layer defence capability of surface ships through re-use of current investment and the commonality and modularity between the helicopter and ship-based systems”.
The Martlet launchers are mounted on the aircraft via Leonardo’s Weapon Wing – which was developed at its manufacturing facility in Yeovil, Somerset, and was first trialled last year. Each weapon wing provides the Wildcat with the ability to carry up to ten Martlet missiles or two Sea Venom anti-ship missiles. It also provides additional lift for the AW159 in forward flight and reduces the demand on its main rotor.
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.”
With more than 1,000 examples on order with the Royal Navy, the munition is expected to enter service later this year and receive its full operational capability by 2024.