Crowsnest to be retired by decades’ end
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Crowsnest to be retired by decades’ end

By Harry Lye 12 May 2021

A recent release from the UK’s Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) has said the UK will retire its troubled Crowsnest Airborne Early Warning (AEW) system, which has only just entered initial service, before the end of the decade.

Crowsnest to be retired by decades’ end
Crowsnest AEW helicopters onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth. Image: MOD/ Crown Copyright.

DASA has partnered with the Royal Navy on a £1.25m competition for ‘innovations that improve situational awareness for Royal Navy Carrier and Littoral Strike Groups’ in a bid to replace Crowsnest.

The DASA release says the current ‘assumption’ for the Crowsnest replacement is a singular large radar mounted on an uncrewed aerial system (UAS), however, DASA added it was interested in potential alternative solutions.

The release adds: “DASA welcomes alternatives that are not based on this approach and match or exceed current airborne capabilities.

“We are seeking a potential successor to Crowsnest, which has a planned out-of-service date of 2029.”

Previously, Naval Technology revealed details about the Royal Navy’s Project Vixen, which is researching the utility of naval UAS that could be used for strike, AEW, and air-to-air refuelling missions.

Work on Project Vixen came to light shortly after the Royal Navy released a request for proposals (RFP) for potential electromagnetic catapult and arrestor wire systems that could be used to launch and recover ‘air vehicles’ from ‘a suitable ship’ by as soon as 2023.

At the time of the RFP, Naval Technology reported that the cats and traps would likely support the future operation of UAS from the two aircraft carriers for AEW and potential airborne aerial refuelling (AAR) roles.

The existing Crowsnest system is due to make its operational debut during this year’s maiden deployment of the UK’s new Carrier Strike Group centred around HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The system consists of an AEW radar fitted to a Merlin Mk2 helicopter.

DASA is looking for ideas that can improve ‘horizon surveillance and/or target detection capability’, ‘operational effectiveness through timely processing and dissemination of information’ and ‘operational efficiency through optimisation of system functionality’.

In the past, Crowsnest development has been slammed by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee which bemoaned ‘inadequate department oversight.’ from the Ministry of Defence over the programme.

As of late last year, MPs said the programme was running 18 months behind schedule. The airborne radar is now likely to achieve full operating capability in 2023.