When the United Kingdom's Queen Elizabeth class carriers go into service in 2020, they'll be watched over by a new generation of eyes in the sky. In an announcement by the Minister for Defence Procurement, Harriett Baldwin MP, Lockheed Martin UK was awarded a £269 million (US $331 million) contract to develop and manufacture the Crowsnest Airborne Surveillance System to alert the carrier groups against incoming missile and other airborne threats.

In 1982, the invasion of the Falkland Islands caught Britain wrong footed in more ways than one. A particularly dangerous shortcoming was that the Fleet Air Arm had retired the Royal Navy's only airborne early warning aircraft years before a replacement was a available – leaving the task force sent to retake the Falklands virtually blind.

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In a remarkable bit of improvisation, a number of Sea King helicopters were modified in only 11 weeks with long-range radar equipment and inflatable radomes to provide the needed surveillance against incoming enemy aircraft and missiles. This design proved so successful that it was retained until present day and is only now set to be replaced with Crowsnest, starting in 2019.

Lockheed will act as prime contractor dealing with overall design and development of the Crowsnest system. It includes the latest version of the Thales Searchwater radar and Cerberus Mission System, which will be installed in a Mk2 Merlin helicopter with Leonardo Helicopters making the necessary airframe modifications and deployment mechanism for the radome.

In all, 30 Royal Navy HM Mk2 aircraft are expected to be delivered with the modifications.

Source: Lockheed Martin