July 7, 2011:
Britain is having great success using its Searchwater 2000 naval early warning radar in Afghanistan. With the radar dome suspended beneath a Sea King naval helicopter, the Searchwater 2000 radar can spot vehicles on the ground out to 50-100 kilometers. This proved useful in Iraq during the 2003 invasion, and has provided British troops in Afghanistan early warning when the Taliban try to move in large groups of gunmen by vehicle. Although the Taliban are thought of as small groups of gunmen moving through the hills on foot, they actually prefer pickup trucks, SUVs and motorcycles. All can be detected, in any weather, by the Searchwater 2000 radar. Images of this road traffic can be immediately transmitted to commanders on the ground, or warplanes carrying smart bombs. At sea, the Searchwater 2000 provides warning of aircraft (several hundred kilometers away) and small boats trying to get close to British warships. The radar is also used in fixed wing maritime patrol aircraft.
The nine ton Sea King is a late 1950s design, and contemporary of the U.S. Army's UH-1 "Huey." In the U.S., the Sea Kings were replaced by a navy version of the Hueys successor, the UH-60 Blackhawk. Over a dozen other navies bought the Sea King, and many still use it. But these aircraft are getting old.
The Sea King has a range of about a thousand kilometers, and a top speed of 210 kilometers an hour. It is mainly used for anti-submarine warfare and search and rescue. They normally stay in the air for about three hours per sortie. Some 1,500 were built (about ten percent were the civilian S-61 version), and over a hundred are still in use. Such long service lives are increasingly common for aircraft. Some of the first Sea Kings survived for over three decades.
The Sea Kings sent to Afghanistan get more powerful engines, anti-missile equipment (to detect and deceive shoulder fired missiles) and some lightweight armor.