Weapon Systems

Wildcat helicopters play key role in UK maritime operations in Middle East


The helicopter's capabilities enable the UK Royal Navy to interdict illegal drugs and smuggled weapons in the region.

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The HMS Duncan's Wildcat helicopter provides overwatch with a Royal Marines Maritime Sniper Team during a NATO boarding exercise in the Mediterranean Sea in August 2017. [NATO]
The HMS Duncan's Wildcat helicopter provides overwatch with a Royal Marines Maritime Sniper Team during a NATO boarding exercise in the Mediterranean Sea in August 2017. [NATO]

The Wildcat Mk 2 helicopters of the UK Royal Navy enable it to facilitate interdiction operations in the Middle East and beyond.

The next-generation multi-role helicopter was specifically procured to operate from Royal Navy frigates and destroyers to tackle threats at sea, according to the British Ministry of Defence.

Equipped with state-of-the-art sensors, equipment and weapons, "the Wildcat Mk 2 keeps the Royal Navy at the cutting-edge of worldwide maritime operations," according to the ministry.

The helicopter can be armed with Sting Ray torpedoes, a 12.7mm calibre M3M cabin-mounted machine gun, and Martlet and Sea Venom missiles.

It has a range of approximately 740km and can fly at a top speed of about 290 km/h.

The Wildcat delivers anti-surface warfare, maritime security, force protection, counter-piracy and counter-narcotics, maritime counterterrorism, anti-submarine warfare, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations.

It is also capable of maritime lift tasks, search-and-rescue, intra-theatre lift, limited troop insertion, and support of humanitarian relief and evacuation operations.

Facilitating maritime security

The Wildcat has played a key role in British operations in the Middle East, and in particular Operation Kipion, the United Kingdom's maritime presence in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

Royal Navy vessels have been permanently deployed to the region since 1980 and have fallen under Operation Kipion since 2011.

The operation, which demonstrates the United Kingdom's commitment to regional security and the safe flow of oil and trade, includes helicopters, dock landing ships and a permanent three-strong squadron of minehunters supported by at least one escort -- the Type 23 Frigate HMS Lancaster -- and a tanker of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

The Wildcat has enabled the HMS Lancaster to interdict illegal drugs and weapons on multiple occasions.

The Lancaster, operating in support of the French-led Combined Task Force (CTF) 150, in September seized more than 450kg of illegal drugs including heroin and hashish in the Arabian Sea.

The frigate's Wildcat helicopter located a suspect vessel in the Northern Arabian Sea and then circled overhead to provide cover with Royal Marine snipers for a boarding team, the Royal Navy said.

Earlier in June, the Lancaster's Wildcat was also involved in the detection of at least one of two suspect boats in the space of 12 hours in the Indian Ocean, which saw the seizure of more than seven tons of hashish, heroin and methamphetamine.

In yet another incident in March, the Wildcat took part in a high-speed chase after locating a suspect speedboat in the Gulf of Oman.

The boat had been traveling south from Iran, and the smugglers tried to evade the helicopter. They ignored radio calls demanding they halt and steered their craft towards Iranian territorial waters.

After intercepting and boarding the boat, Royal Marines found Iranian versions of Russian 9M133 Kornet anti-tank guided missiles and medium-range ballistic missile components.

Commitment to regional security

The HMS Lancaster is not the only British ship in the region equipped with the Wildcat.

UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps announced on November 29 that one of the Royal Navy's most advanced vessels, the HMS Diamond, was under way to the Middle East.

"As a powerful demonstration of the UK's commitment to regional security, the Type 45 destroyer will bolster the UK's naval presence in the Gulf and work to deter escalations from malign and hostile actors who seek to disrupt maritime security," the ministry said in a statement.

The HMS Diamond, which also has a Wildcat on board, was headed to the region to "conduct operations to ensure freedom of navigation in the region, reassure merchant vessels and ensure the safe flow of trade."

"Today's deployment will strengthen the Royal Navy's patrols, help to keep critical trade routes open and prove that our commitment to regional security not only endures but enhances," Shapps said in the statement.

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