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AgustaWestland Sea King / Commando

In 1959 Westland acquired the license to build the Sikorsky S-61B, to replace the Wessex in the antisubmarine role. The Royal Navy required a British powerplant with different characteristics from the original one, different electronics and a wide range of mission capabilities. Westland adopted a pair of Rolls-Royce Bristol Gnome turbines for their version of the Sea King, with largely British-made ASW equipment. The resultant helicopter is readily identifiable by the dorsal radome of the all-weather search radar. Subsequent development changed this helicopter very considerably.

The Sea King has a long fuselage with boat-hull bottom and sponsons either side of the cabin into which the main undercarriage wheels retract. Engines are mounted above the cabin with the five-blade main rotor on top. The short tail section is stepped up behind the single rear wheel, with the six-blade tail rotor on port side of the short stabiliser. A radar 'dustbin' is located on the top of the fuselage behind the engines.

The first production Westland Sea King HAS.Mk 1 for the navy was flown on 7 May 1969, the type entering service the same year. A number of versions of the Sea King were produced: Sea King HAS Mk.1, Mk.2 and Mk.5 for the Royal Navy; HAR Mk.3 (16 of the SAR version for the RAF); Sea King Mk.42 (24 for the Indian Navy), which was based on the RN version except for the communications equipment; Mk.41 for the German Navy (22); Mk.43 for the Norwegian Navy (11); Mk.45 for the Pakistani Navy (6); Mk.48 for the Belgian Air Force (5 of the SAR version); Mk.50 for the Australian Navy (12).Westland also built a tactical version known as the Commando, which is suitable for such roles as cargo transport, casualty evacuation, logistic support and troop transport (28 men can be carried). A total of 17 of the Commando version were initially delivered to the Royal Navy and at least another 30 to Egypt and Qatar. Deliveries for the Sea King and Commando totalled 326 by the end of 1993.

The Sea King has been operational in British service for over 30 years, with various upgrades and airframe improvements throughout this period. They were due to remain in service until 2018 and will continue to play a key part in Britain's defence and Search and Rescue infrastructure. The Sea King fleet comprises seven different marks of aircraft, flying a wide variety of missions in a number of roles including Search and Rescue (SAR), Airborne Early Warning (AEW) and amphibious troop transport.

The Westland Sea King HAR3 entered RAF service in 1978 and the 3A in 1996; both marks of aircraft are used in the Search and Rescue (SAR) role. The aircraft are operated from six locations around the UK, with each location supporting two aircraft. There is also a detachment of two HAR3s providing SAR cover in the Falkland Islands. The SAR squadrons provide 24-hour cover around the UK and the Falkland Islands throughout each year. Each squadron maintains a 15-minutes readiness state during daylight hours and a 45-minutes readiness state during the hours of darkness.

For the search aspect of its role, the Sea King is able to operate to precise navigational standards and is fitted with a multi-band homing system, satellite navigation systems, a search radar, a comprehensive avionics suite and a large selection of radios. For its rescue role, the aircraft is equipped with a hydraulically-operated main rescue hoist, an electrically-operated emergency rescue hoist and electrical connections suitable for powering medical equipment such as incubators.

The SAR fleet of Sea Kings are fitted with a video/infrared detection pod, which is similar to the equipment used by police helicopters, to help search for casualties. All SAR crews are trained to operate using night-vision goggles over unfamiliar terrain. The standard SAR crew is made up of four members: two pilots, one of whom is the aircraft captain, a radar operator who acts as the winch operator at the rescue scene and a winchman, normally trained to paramedic standard, who supply immediate first-aid and recovery services at the rescue site.

The Sea King Mk4 – known throughout the Naval world as the Jungly – are the green giants of the Fleet Air Arm. Wherever Royal Marines go in the world, they are accompanied by the venerable Sea Kings of the Commando Helicopter Force, based at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset. It not merely ferries the green berets into action, but also delivers their supplies and also field guns or Land Rovers if needed. The Junglies have seen action most recently in Iraq – they were instrumental in the opening hours of the 2003 war with Saddam Hussein by landing Royal Marines on the Al Faw peninsula.

By 2012 the two front-line Mk4 squadrons – 845 and 846 Naval Air Squadrons – were committed around the clock in Afghanistan supporting the mission of all Allied forces there. The Sea King was upgraded for its mission in Helmand to the Mk4+. It features improved rotor blades to cope with the challenging environment, defensive aids and decoys to fend off enemy attack, night vision goggles to allow the crew to fly at all times and in all weather conditions. The Mk4 owes its nickname not to its distinctive jungle-green livery but the historical role Commando helicopter squadrons performed in Borneo in the 1960s.

The Sea King Mk7 Airborne Surveillance and Control – known throughout the Navy as Baggers – are the ‘eyes in the sky’ of the Navy, searching for aerial threats to the Fleet – or suspicious movements on the ground in support of land forces. We owe our nickname to the distinctive inflatable black sack or bag on the side of each helicopter. It may look a rather cumbersome piece of kit from the outside, but inside that sack is the cutting-edge Searchwater 2000 radar capable of remarkably-accurate detection of surface and air targets. Once enemy units are detected, the helicopter’s observers can direct friendly air, sea or ground forces to intercept – as they did with devastating effect during the fighting in southern Iraq in 2003.

On 06 June 2005 AgustaWestland, a Finmeccanica company, was awarded a £300 million pound five year contract for the future support of the UK MoD's fleet of Sea King Helicopters. Westland Helicopters Ltd, as Prime contractor, has teamed with BAE Systems Avionics and Thales UK to form a new industrial partnership to secure the long term future support provided to Sea King aircraft. Known as Sea King Integrated Operational Support (SKIOS), this concept provides the MOD with guaranteed levels of availability of support, a more integrated support service based upon guaranteed availability of equipment and technical services and aligns the industrial support infrastructure with the needs of the Operational Customer. SKIOS marks the first implementation under the new joint commitment by the MoD and AgustaWestland Partnering and Business Transformation agreement.

AgustaWestland has been doing business in India for four decades with the delivery, in 1971, of an initial batch of Sea King helicopters to the Indian Navy for anti-submarine warfare. The Indian Navy received a substantial number of AgustaWestland Sea King helicopters including advanced Sea King Mk.42B and Mk.42C variants which were delivered in the late 1980's. AgustaWestland continues to provide support, training and upgrade services to the Indian Navy for its fleet of Sea King helicopters.

On 26 September 2006 AgustaWestland, a Finmeccanica Company, announced that it had been awarded a contract by the Indian Navy to return to service seven Sea King Mk 42B helicopters. Work on the contract commenced immediately with AgustaWestland providing a specialist team to work with personnel from the Indian aerospace industry to undertake the recovery program. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) undertook the repair and overhaul of "rotable" items including the transmission and rotor heads in support of this contract. In March 2004 AgustaWestland signed a contract with HAL to enable it to perform indigenous Sea King repair and overhaul work in support of the Indian Navy Sea King fleet.

AgustaWestland and Thales unveiled an enhanced Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC) capability, at RNAS Yeovilton on 10 July 2010 during the Fleet Air Arm’s annual Air Day. The low cost, low risk capability builds upon the combat proven Sea King Mk7 ASaC Cerberus mission system and Searchwater 2000 radar, to provide enhanced operational effectiveness through the use of the next generation AgustaWestland AW101 helicopter. AgustaWestland and Thales have teamed to jointly explore the potential for this capability in advance of the keenly expected MoD requirement to replace the Sea King Mk7 ASaC aircraft after its planned retirement in 2016. The palletised Searchwater 2000 radar is deployed through the rear ramp aperture when in operation and stows in the cabin when not in use, enabling rapid transit between tasking. Two aft-facing modernised mission crew stations are located at the forward end of the cabin.

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Page last modified: 05-05-2013 18:42:16 ZULU