The UK Royal Navy has commissioned its next generation of submarine-hunting Merlin Mk2 aircraft, four months ahead of their planned deployment.
Joining the navy's Invincible-class, light-aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, Merlins participated in Exercise Deep Blue, demonstrating anti-submarine warfare, maritime patrol and casualty evacuation capabilities.
Built as part of an £800m programme to upgrade the navy's existing aircraft fleet, Merlins feature latest cockpits that provide improved night-vision capability for pilots and a modernised combat system with touch screen display.
UK Defence Equipment, Support and Technology Minister Philip Dunne said: "The updated Merlin is one of the most technologically advanced and effective anti-submarine helicopters, and their entry into service is a real boost for the Royal Navy.
"Delivering the Merlin Mk2 into service four months ahead of schedule and to budget is a real achievement and shows how MoD is working well with industry to deliver world-class equipment to our armed forces."
The UK Navy is planning to deploy Merlin Mk2 helicopters on-board the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, in addition to operating from frigates, destroyers and Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships globally.
In addition, the navy has yet to receive 15 aircraft at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall over the following 18 months.
Image: The UK Royal Navy's submarine-hunting helicopters have already participated in Exercise Deep Blue. Photo: courtesy of Royal Navy.