Wildcat Fielding SITREP & Initial Findings

As LZDZ goes to print, The Aviation Reconnaissance Force (ARF) and Wildcat Fielding Team (Army) WFT(A) will have raised a glass to celebrate a year of flying the Wildcat AH Mk1 and 1,000 flying hours.

In its first year, much has been accomplished. 23rd May saw ARF and the WFT(A) celebrate the successful completion of the Trial Conversion to Type Course at a Black-Tie dinner. This milestone sees 15 RM and AAC pilots qualified on type, nine of whom are Competent to instruct QHIs/QHTIs and there are seven qualified ACM. Meanwhile, a clear understanding of how the capability will be sustained, from a Ground Support and Engineering perspective is evolving well, with a host of groundcrew and engineers (including a core contingent from CHF) now qualified on type. The joint nature of WFT(A) cannot be overlooked: success to date is emphatically due to the contribution of each of the two Services.

The dinner also marked the end of the phase of Wildcat Fielding which focused primarily on “training the trainer” and the beginning of the formal Operational Evaluation and Tactics Development (OE and TACDEV) phase. One should not labour under the misapprehension that no evaluation of the capability has been undertaken to date. WFT(A) has deployed on 3 Field Training Exercises – the best mechanism by which OE and TACDEV is accomplished – and has participated in Ex URBAN WARRIOR 5c, the synthetic element in the series of Force Development experiments which examine Land capability in the post 2020 period.

First, a very short history lesson to set the scene: Initially identified in the Future Rotorcraft Study of the late 90s as a requirement for rotorcraft to meet the “Find” function (via some distractions with “Battlefield Light Utility”), “Future Lynx” was selected as the Army’s Battlefield Reconnaissance Helicopter (BRH). It will probably surprise some that BRH is intended to replace both the Gazelle (stand fast those still in service) and Lynx fleets. It should also be pointed out that the British Army would almost certainly not be fielding a new helicopter at this juncture were it not for the RN’s requirement for a new Helicopter Maritime Attack (HMA). Like it or lump it, the existence of Wildcat has been entirely dependant upon the dual requirements of the two Services, so whilst criticism has been vocal with respect to the BRH variant, it is fruitless and, as shall be demonstrated, largely unfounded.

The main part of this article will look briefly at each of the aircraft’s primary roles, as described in its Concept of Use. This approach mirrors that used for OE/TACDEV itself and WFT(A) has been subdivided into small teams, each charged with the development of that role. The teams are in the privileged position of being able to develop the TTPs for the new capability. In the few areas where they might identify some shortcomings they will make recommendations to put them right, either by developing new TTPs, or by generating new requirements. I will allude to some of those observations here and some of the conclusions may be surprising.

Due to the level of maturity of some of the secondary roles (Armed/Offensive Action, C2 Support and Limited Movement of Men and Materiel), I will save those for a future article.

Before we look at the roles in detail, it’s important to note that the platform which delivers them is considerably more advanced than its forebears which have carried them out. The airframe, whilst strikingly similar to a Lynx, is a complete new build, save for a few mechanical components, and uses the latest manufacturing techniques to produce advanced, robust and safe aircraft structures. (A cursory glance will confirm this to the seasoned Lynx operator and is strongly recommended – visits strongly welcomed). The main areas of difference discussed here are in the Avionics and Missions Systems and the manner in which these are integrated with one another. Wildcat is a digital platform and built for the 21st century. Its communications systems – the fundamental underpinnings of the capability – are superior to any other platform that JHC operates and it is these aspects of the capability which tie the others together, making the whole greater than the sum of the parts. Here’s how:

Equipped with the “Electro Optical Designation System” (EODS) – a more advanced version of WESCAM’s MX-15 – initial assessments of the target acquisition capability reveal excellent performance. The EODS has seriously impressed the Team Lead, WO1 Tony Cooke, who has years of experience of OE from 667 (D&T) Sqn, as well as the four Apache pilots within the team. There is great confidence that BRH will be able to identify targets at ranges considerably greater than Apache and this will be explored in detail during a joint trial in July. (Close interoperability with the Attack platform is deemed an essential “implied task” of Wildcat Fielding). Of equal note are the initial responses of the ground manoeuvre units that WFT(A) has worked with. 1 Bn Coldsteam Gds BG was treated to a brief foray with Wildcat last November. The weather prevented a sustained serious interaction, but the presence of an agile, responsive ISTAR platform, which could cover the BG in AO in a matter of minutes and report its findings on the BG ISTAR net, was met very positively.

Since that initial investigation, the ISTAR capability has been examined more holistically and with greater emphasis on the mission system and communications that allow the potentially huge amount of information being gathered to be managed and exported. Key to this is the laser rangefinder/target designator, which enables highly accurate measurement of the position of the target (prior to prosecution by Joint Fires – see next page). Once a target has been identified and its location established, it becomes a highly valuable piece of information, which needs to be exploited. The mission system allows the crew to track that information and export it, most readily via Improved Data Modem (IDM) to other Wildcats or to Apache. The way the information is presented allows other crew members (RHS pilot or Avn Crewman) to transmit the information via BOWMAN voice as a sighting report, none of which requires the stroke of a chinagraph or paper map. Wildcat’s communications capability development is being led by WO2 Marv Smyth with significant “user operator” input from Maj Nick Wharmby AAC(V) and has exceeded all expectations.

During its recent deployment to SPTA, Capt Watson RM, the DofF lead, was able to exploit an opportunity both to observe and then direct live artillery fire with the Joint Fires Team from the Royal School of Artillery. The RA instructor staff were very impressed with the capability during a demo which also proved to be a very successful assessment. It allowed us to prove the “Joint Fires” pages on the mission system which populate all of the required details to execute a fire mission (Arty, Air and Naval Fires) when a target is selected. One of the most positive results of this complex piece of the evaluation was the development of a technique to adjust artillery fire. Using the laser and a properly set up tactical view page, Capt Watson’s team was able to call an accurate adjustment within two seconds of seeing the rounds land and, in all likelihood, could call for a Fire for Effect. In comparison with the Jt Fires Commander’s Course students who were also firing the guns, there were several orders of magnitude difference!

In order to fend off the sceptics at this point, it is necessary to explore the first of two of the more obvious shortcomings of the aircraft in its ISTAR role: The lack of VHF downlink to export moving imagery to a supported unit and the “inverted” nature of the EODS seem starkly obvious to those whose recent experience is Op TELIC/HERRICK centric. WFT(A)’s findings strongly assert the view that a downlink is not the panacea and that Wildcat’s modus operandi will significantly enhance the capability of the supported unit for the following reasons:

• The nature of the future battlespace is likely to be more fluid and less well established than we have come to know, particularly at the Intervention phase.
• Continuous overhead UAS coverage may not be possible against a technically competent adversary.
• The only reliable communications infrastructure that will support dispersed, manoeuvrist operations will be BOWMAN and its successor.
• Fmn and BG staffs lack the resources and manpower to continuously monitor an increasing array of digital feeds into their HQs.
• Army aircrew are trained to the same principles and standards as all other offrs/NCOs in understanding the nature of manoeuvre warfare, mission command and of commanders’ intents.
• Wildcat’s lack of “look down” capability can be mitigated by lateral stand-off in the majority of situations and at relatively low risk due to long target acquisition ranges.
• The presence of the “man in the loop” who has the complete pan-AO perspective that an airborne platform affords cannot be underestimated.

This has led to the conclusion that the contribution to the Land picture that can be provided by the crew of a Wildcat direct to the point of use via BOWMAN voice (and data once that capability is proven) is significant. If you remain sceptical, consider the words of COS 2 R WELSH BG on Ex URBAN WARRIOR in which “synthetic” Wildcat supported the BG’s assault on a technically competent and well equipped adversary in a modern built up area: “Of all the airborne ISTAR platforms available to us (Watchkeeper, Desert Hawk III, Black Hornet), Wildcat was by far the best.”

As a small epilogue to this tale, it should also be mentioned that WFT(A) has had the additional task of demonstrating the aircraft’s capability to a continuous stream of visitors, from HRH the Duke of York, CGS, CLF, Comd JHC and a host of others. The responses have been overwhelmingly positive, but crucially, have been linked by a common theme which was beautifully articulated by JHC’s Capability Director; Cdre Pentreath: “I won’t refer to it as Lynx Mark 10 again.”

Written By: Maj Jim Donovan SO2 Plans (Wildcat) HQ ARF

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