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When Wildcats Meet Water, it’s the Perfect Storm

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Maritime Attack Helicopters 

Smaller navy ships like frigates and destroyers need air support, and small marine attack helicopters like the Lynx and Wildcat fit the bill better than fixed-wing aircraft. They’re fast and maneuverable, can take off and land vertically with minimal space (no need for runways), and can easily hover or move at slow speeds.

Merlin helicopters from 814 Naval Air Squadron pictured on board HMS Illustrious during Exercise Joint Warrior near Scotland.
Merlin helicopters from 814 Naval Air Squadron

Space on ships is limited, so helicopters need to serve multiple roles, from search and rescue to anti-submarine warfare, and even transport missions. Quarters are tight, so there’s simply no room for single-purpose aircraft.

That’s why maritime helicopters like the Lynx and Wildcat work so well on naval vessels. These modern multi-role aircraft operate almost autonomously in a variety of functions, acting as an integral part of their ships’ fighting capability.

Significant Versatility

Built to withstand harsh marine conditions and salt water corrosion, with provision for forced ditching at sea, these helicopters are equipped for anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare, transport, search and rescue, maritime surveillance, reconnaissance, vertical replenishment, casualty evacuation, anti-piracy, maritime counter-terrorism and force protection/tactical air support.

Read more about how L3 WESCAM systems enable anti-submarine warfare.

WESCAM’s imaging technology contributes dramatically to that versatility. Recently, the UK’s Fleet Air Arm upgraded their fleet from Lynx helicopters to the newer Wildcat HMA2s, equipped with WESCAM’s MX-Series EO/IR systems. The nose-mounted turret on the Wildcat fleet includes an MX-15D turret, which is equipped with a suite of imaging and lasing sensors for use at sea.

World-Class Imaging

Each all-digital cockpit has four 10×8” active matrix LCD displays showing air vehicle data, tactical views and EO/IR views. The handgrip controller makes it easy to manage sensor presentation with a picture-in-picture feature that lets the observer flip from TV to infrared and back to quickly identify the clearest image with the best contrast.


Lt. Cdr. Paddy Williams of the British Navy’s 700W unit has flown over 3000 hours as a Lynx observer, and he says the suite on the Wildcat is in a while different league.

“A number of Merlin Helicopters already have an earlier variant of the MX-15, but the Wildcat version is significantly more advanced in terms of its sensor fit,” he says in an article in Defence Helicopter magazine. “As well as colour TV and mid-waveband infrared cameras, the turret also hosts a laser rangefinder and laser target designator and a spotter lens. And there is room left to integrate the Active Laser Generation Unit associated with the FASGW (Light) missile.”

Because the advanced sensors have tremendous range, there’s no need to get close to subjects, leading to a lower likelihood of being seen and enhanced operator safety.

Extending Aircraft Service Life in France

MX-20 on an ALT2

The UK isn’t the only naval force using WESCAM systems to enhance their aircrafts’ sighting and lasing capabilities. The French Navy’s 15 Atlantic 2 (ATL2) maritime patrol aircraft have been upgraded to extend service life to 2030. A WESCAM MX-20 EO/IR turret replaced the original FLIR (forward-looking infrared) system, offering greater distance visibility and enhanced imaging. They initially upgraded three helicopters for an urgent mission over Mali, and as a result of that experience, they ordered an addition 12 units to outfit their full fleet.

With advanced technology that offers a clearer picture and higher visibility, operators can do more in less time, making time-sensitive decisions with better intel than ever before.

WESCAM technology provides defence agencies around the world the tools they need to protect the countries they serve. For more about our technology, check out or visit us on YouTube. You can also visit us on Twitter at @L3WESCAM




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