Naval Air: Wildcats Join FFX


July 11, 2016: South Korea has received the first four of eight British made AW159 Wildcat helicopters for use on the new locally built FFX frigates. The Wildcat is based on the earlier Super Lynx and Lynx naval helicopters. The British Army and Royal Navy have also ordered AW159s. Similar in size and capability to the U.S. SH-60 Seahawk, these two helicopters often compete with each other for export sales.

South Korea plans to build 15 or more FFXs and each will require two Wildcats, even though these frigates often go to sea with only one helicopter. The six ton Wildcat has a normal endurance of 90 minutes (270 minutes carrying max fuel) and a top speed of 290 kilometers an hour. AW159 can carry dipping sonar and one or two anti-submarine torpedoes. In cargo mode it can carry seven passengers or half a ton of cargo.

The South Korean AW159s will be used mainly for ASW (anti-submarine warfare). Sensors include AESA radar to find subs (and other ships) on the surface and dipping sonar to detect submerged subs. The AW159 carries depth charges or locally made K745 torpedoes, which weigh 280 kg (616 pounds) each and have a range of up to 19 kilometers in the water and a top speed of 83 kilometers an hour.

For surface targets AW159 carries the long-range (25 kilometers) version of the Israeli Spike missile. This version, Spike NLOS (Non Line-Of-Sight), weighs 70kg (155 pounds), twice what the next largest version. Spike is a series of anti-tank (or whatever) missiles with ranges from 200-25,000 meters. Spike NLOS can be fired at a target the operator cannot see (but someone else, with a laser designator, can see). Spike NLOS is usually fired from helicopters, which also provides the laser designator.

South Korea wants to use Spike NLOS off their west coast, to help block North Korean attempts to invade South Korean islands near the maritime border. Each AW159 will four Spike NLOS. A helicopter only has to be about 40 meters (122 feet) high to spot something 25 kilometers away. The Spike NLOS has multiple guidance systems, including a live video feed that allows the pilot to fly the missile into to the target, or use the image of the selected target to have the missile home in by itself (“fire and forget”). On the downside Spike NLOS is expensive, costing over $250,000 each.


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