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Merlin helicopters arrive on HMS Queen Elizabeth ahead of landmark deployment

Merlins arrive on HMS Queen Elizabeth ahead of her maiden deployment
27 April 2021
Navy helicopters designed for surveillance and submarine hunting operations have arrived on HMS Queen Elizabeth as they prepare to be the carrier’s airborne guardians during her landmark maiden deployment.

Specialist Merlin Mk2 Crowsnest helicopters – which scour the skies with powerful radar looking for potential adversaries – are now on board the 65,000 tonne carrier along with fellow Merlins equipped for anti-submarine warfare.

The Crowsnest Merlins are responsible for airborne surveillance and control (known as ASaC) and will fly up to a mile and a half above the carrier group to look over the horizon for possible threats, while the sub hunters monitor activity beneath the waves.

Joining the carrier along with the helicopters are 190 men and women - the aircrew and engineers of 820 Naval Air Squadron - who will keep the aircraft flying for the duration of the deployment.

Commander Ian Varley, the commanding officer of 820 Naval Air Squadron, said: “This is a proud moment today. A tremendous amount of work has gone into getting us ready for this.

“Airborne surveillance and control is a new capability inserted into the existing Merlin Mk2 helicopter fleet. We are now embarking that in the carrier strike group, so we can have constant surveillance of the sea and airspace around the ships. This will protect the carrier and her escorts from any potential threat, be that missiles, aircraft or other warships.

“From my personal point of view, having ASaC back in the Fleet Air Arm is getting us back to where we used to be of old. I first started flying anti-submarine warfare helicopters and I also flew the equivalent of ASaC, which was the airborne early warning Sea King. That was when we had carriers with Sea Harriers and we were able to deploy anywhere around the world.

“Moving forward now into 2021, we are re-establishing that capability with our new carriers, as we work with our allies on this historic deployment for the Royal Navy and the United Kingdom.”

It was a significant moment for the Royal Navy as HMS Queen Elizabeth prepares for her maiden deployment. The carrier is taking part in an exercise off Scotland before starting her deployment.

In all, seven Merlin helicopters (three with Crowsnest and four for anti-submarine warfare) from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall will join the carrier and will be the airborne guardians of the strike group.

Between them, they will defend the carrier and her escorts from threats below the waves, on the surface and in the air.

The UK’s Carrier Strike Group will visit more than one fifth of the world’s nations when it sails next month.

Led by HMS Queen Elizabeth, the task group will visit 40 nations including India, Japan, Republic of Korea and Singapore in a deployment covering 26,000 nautical miles.


This is a proud moment today. A tremendous amount of work has gone into getting us ready for this.

Commander Ian Varley

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