Thales will demonstrate a lightweight missile to equip Royal Navy AW159 Wildcat helicopters. (Thales)
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PARIS — A deal to demonstrate and manufacture a lightweight missile system to equip Royal Navy AW159 Wildcat helicopters has been secured by the Belfast-arm of Thales UK.
The company announced the £48 million (US $81.4 million) contract to develop, qualify and integrate its new Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM) on the helicopter during a visit to the company’s Northern Ireland weapons facility today by British Procurement Minister Philip Dunne.
The 28-pound missile is a laser beam-riding, precision-strike, low-cost weapon adopted by the British to equip the AgustaWestland helicopter with the capability to attack small ships, fast inshore attack craft and other targets.
The contract covers a five-barrel launcher and laser-guidance system as well as deployable test equipment, the company said in a statement.
The Royal Navy requirement, known as Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (Light), is mirrored by a second missile program known as Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy).
A £500 deal for missile builder MBDA to develop and manufacture a heavier weapon to replace the Sea Skua was signed in March in a collaboration with France.
Both programs are running later than expected, meaning the British are in the embarrassing position of having their new Wildcat helicopter due to enter service with the Royal Navy next year without either of its two main missile armaments available.
The helicopter also is armed with machine guns and torpedoes.
The manufacturing deals involving the missiles are expected to lead to an integration contract soon for AgustaWestland.
Defense News recently revealed that Thales had ditched Roxel as the rocket motor supplier over performance issues and replaced them with a system built by Norway’s Nammo. The change occurred early last year but has only recently come to light.
The statement released on LMM today gave no timelines for the work to be completed. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Defence said the planned in-service date for both weapons was late 2020, five years behind schedule
Thales executives signed a deal in 2011 with the MoD for the production of 1,000 LMMs and this latest deal is a further phase of that program. ■