The AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat (previously called the Future Lynx and Lynx Wildcat) is a British military helicopter. It is an improved version of the Westland Super Lynx designed to serve in the battlefield utility, search and rescue and anti-surface warfare roles. In British service, common variants are being operated by both the Royal Navy and British Army, having replaced their Lynx Mk.7/8/9 predecessors. The AW159 has also been offered to several export customers, and has been ordered by the Republic of Korea Navy and the Philippine Navy.
In 1995, the British Government announced that the Royal Navy’s existing Westland Lynx helicopters were to be replaced; at that point, the service was intended to operate an all-Merlin fleet. Despite this stated intent, Westland Helicopters continued to hold talks with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to find a future role for the type during the late 1990s; the firm issued multiple proposals to either extend the life of the existing Super Lynx through upgrade programmes or more ambitious remanufacturing programmes incorporating varying degrees of new components. In 2002, the Future Lynx project originated in two studies to determine the suitability of a derivative of the Super Lynx 300 to replace the existing Lynx helicopters of the Royal Navy and British Army. These requirements were known as the Surface Combatant Maritime Rotorcraft (SCMR) and Battlefield Light Utility Helicopter (BLUH) programmes, respectively.
In July 2002, AgustaWestland received a contract to conduct a formal assessment phase of the Future Lynx. On 22 July 2002, a collaboration agreement was signed between AgustaWestland and Thales Group, under which Thales was assigned development responsibility for the programme’s core avionics, including communications, navigation, and flight management electronics; that same day, additional MOD funding for the fledgling Future Lynx programme was announced as having been allocated. By April 2003, the in-service dates for the BLUH and SCMR programmes were reported as being April 2007 and April 2008 respectively. Early on, AgustaWestland elected to adopt a glass cockpit incorporating electronics upgrades from the AgustaWestland AW101 along with various airframe improvements, such as a redesigned tail rotor and nose along with increased use of machined components over fabricated counterparts. By July 2004, the option of upgrading and remanufacturing the first generation Lynx had reportedly been judged to be uneconomical, and the BLUH programme of building a new generation airframe had been given prominence instead.
In late 2004, the National Audit Office (NAO) criticised the UK’s existing helicopter fleet as being insufficient; concurrently, a major reorganisation of the MOD’s procurement process subjected ongoing helicopter programmes to major restructuring. The BLUH was reportedly deemed unaffordable, and it was speculated that a more modest sensor fit could be used, as well as the procurement of alternative platforms such as the NHIndustries NH90, Eurocopter EC120, or Eurocopter EC635 instead of the Future Lynx. Ultimately, the utility transport aspect of the BLUH requirement was de-emphasised and the programme renamed Battlefield Reconnaissance Helicopter (BRH).
In early 2005, the MOD was reportedly deliberating on whether to launch an open competition for other companies to bid to meet the BRH requirement, or to sole-source the contract from AgustaWestland to proceed with the Future Lynx. In late March 2005, the MOD confirmed the Future Lynx as being its preferred option for its rotorcraft renewal programme, and was expected to place a non-competitive contract with AgustaWestland later that year. The signing of the contract was delayed to the following year, this was reportedly in part due to preparation and release of the 2005 Defence Industrial Strategy, which supported the selection of the Future Lynx.
On 22 June 2006, the MOD awarded AgustaWestland a £1 billion contract for 70 Future Lynx helicopters as a commitment under the Strategic Partnering Arrangement with AgustaWestland. The programme envisaged providing the British Army with 40 aircraft and Royal Navy with 30, with an option for a further 10, split equally between Army and Navy. By late 2007, the Future Lynx was scheduled to enter service with the British Army and Royal Navy in 2014 and 2015 respectively. In 2008, the cancellation of the Future Lynx programme has reportedly been under consideration. In December 2008, the MOD announced that the main contract would be proceeding, only incurring a minor cut in numbers set to be procured, for a total of 62 rotorcraft.
In October 2007, following the passing of an interim critical design review, the Future Lynx programme proceeded to the manufacturing phase; the first metal was cut on the initial flight-test rotorcraft that same month. In September 2008, the powerplant selected for the Future Lynx, the LHTEC CTS800-4N, received European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) type certification, enabling production deliveries to commence. In November 2008, GKN delivered the first complete airframe to AgustaWestland; the new airframe reportedly had an 80 per cent lower part count than the earlier generation Lynx, which was achieved via the use of monolithic machine components.
On 24 April 2009, it was announced that the Future Lynx had been designated AW159 by AgustaWestland, and would be known in British military service as the Wildcat. On 12 November 2009, the first Lynx Wildcat conducted the type’s maiden flight from AgustaWestland’s facility in Yeovil, Somerset. On 14 October 2010, the second AW159 performed its first flight; on 19 November 2010, a third Wildcat joined the flight test programme.
In July 2009, it was announced that the cost of the Wildcat programme had increased to £1.7 billion. In December 2011, it was reported that four additional Wildcats had been ordered for use by British special forces. These are to be joined by four from the current fleet on order, for a total of eight aircraft to operate as Wildcat Light Assault Helicopters. Further orders for the Wildcat have since been placed by export customers, including the Republic of Korea Navy and the Philippine Navy.
The AW159 Wildcat is a further development of the Westland Lynx. While the AW159 shares broad similarities in appearance to the Lynx, it has significant design differences and is heavily modernised and adapted to gain new attributes and functionality. The AW159 comprises 95% new components; the remaining 5%, consisting of such items as the fuel system and main rotor gearbox, are interchangeable with the Lynx AH7 and HMA8 variants. During development, the Army and Navy variants of the Wildcat reportedly maintained 98 per cent commonality with one another. The AW159 is the first helicopter by AgustaWestland to be designed inside an entirely digital environment. Among other changes, certain external elements of the Wildcat, such as the tail rotor, have been redesigned for greater durability and stealth qualities.
Both Army and Navy variants have a common airframe, which is manufactured by GKN Aerostructures; the airframe has been marinised for operations in the naval environment and provides for a greater airframe lifespan of 12,000 flight hours. The wheeled undercarriage is also strengthened for naval landings on both variants. The AW159 is powered by two 1,362 hp (1,016 kW) LHTEC CTS800 turboshaft engines which drives the rotorcraft’s BERP IV rotor blades via a new transmission, increasing the maximum take-off weight by more than 1 ton over the legacy Super Lynx. It is equipped with a new composite tailboom, tailplane, tail rotor, nose structure and avionics suite. The naval version is also equipped with a SELEX Galileo Seaspray 7000E active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and L-3 Wescam MX-15HDi electro-optical/infrared nose turret. A glass cockpit comprises the primary human-machine interface, using four 255 x 200mm multifunction displays to provide information to the aircrew and interact with the avionics systems on board.
The Wildcat features an increased payload and range over the preceding Super Lynx; it is operationally required to carry up to 8 Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapons up to 185 kilometers from a host ship and remain on station for up to an hour. The type can perform aerial reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW), utility, fire control, command and control, and troop transport duties.
In June 2014, the Royal Navy awarded Thales Group a £48 million contract to deliver the Martlet missile for the Wildcat under the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapons Light (FASGW (L)) programme for targets such as small boats and fast attack craft. A Wildcat can carry four launchers, each with five Martlets.
In March 2014 a contract was awarded to MBDA for the Sea Venom (FASGW Heavy) missile for use against vessels and land targets, replacing the Sea Skua. Both missiles are being integrated by AgustaWestland in a single £90m programme by 2018, with IOC for both planned by October 2020.
Many elements of the AW159’s avionics are provided by Thales Group. The type is reported to possess significant ISTAR capabilities and improved situational awareness, achieved through its onboard integrated digital open systems architecture; it has been equipped with the Bowman communications system, allowing for data such as targeting and voice communications to be securely and seamlessly transmitted to friendly forces.7 Some AW159 models have been fitted with various General Dynamics-built mission systems, these include secured data recorders and tactical processing systems which integrate sensor data and application information for displaying within the cockpit as well as for retention within encrypted data storage. Other mission systems used on the Wildcat have been produced by BAE Systems. All variants of the Wildcat share the same defensive aids arrangement, which shares some commonality with the AgustaWestland Apache; features include missile warning sensors, countermeasures dispensers, and infrared exhaust suppressors.
- Wildcat AH1: Initial battlefield reconnaissance model, total of 34 ordered for the Army Air Corps.
- Wildcat HMA2: Initial maritime model, total of 28 ordered for the Royal Navy.
|Capacity||6 passengers, including door gunner|
||15.24 m (50 ft 0 in)|
|Height||3.73 m (12 ft 3 in)|
|Main rotor diameter||12.8 m (42 ft 0 in)|
|Empty weight||3,300 kg (7,275 lb)|
|Max take off weight||6,000 kg (13,228 lb)|
|Maximum speed (Vne)||311 km/h (193 mph, 168 kn)|
|Cruising speed at sea level|
|Ascent speed at sea level||10 m/s (2,000 ft/min) max at sea level|
|Ceiling in service||3,657 m (12,000 ft)|
|Passable distance at sea level with standard reserve||777 km (483 mi, 420 nmi)|
|Powerplant||2 × LHTEC CTS800-4N turboshaft, 1,015 kW (1,361 hp) each|
|Armament||Guns: 2x forward-firing 7.62 mm (0.300 in) machine-guns (optional)
Rockets: up to 20× Thales Martlet (Lightweight Multirole Missile), formerly Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon
Missiles: up to 4× MBDA Sea Venom, formerly Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon
Antiship: Sting Ray torpedo and Mk 11 depth charges