Upgraded Lynx AH9A ZG923
The 22nd and final Lynx AH9A was handed over to the Army Air Corp on Thursday 15th December 2011 at AgustaWestland’s Yeovil factory. This marked the completion of the Mk9A upgrade programme ahead of schedule and within budget.
Graham Cole, Chairman of AgustaWestland Ltd, said at the ceremony “The Mk9A programme has been a major success story for both AgustaWestland and the MoD. Many doubted this major upgrade programme could be done in the timescale initially laid down, but I am very pleased to say not only will we complete the delivery of the final aircraft in December but we will have achieved this milestone three months ahead of schedule.”
Accepting the aircraft on behalf of the Army Air Corp was Brigadier James Illingworth, Deputy Commander of the Joint Helicopter Command & Director of Army Aviation, who described the “nine alpha” as “operationally credible and seriously capable”.
AgustaWestland was awarded a £50 million Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) contract to integrate the CTS800-4N engine from the Lynx Wildcat into 12 Lynx AH9 helicopters in December 2008. The new engine gives a 37% increase in power over the Gem engine fitted to the AH7 and AH9 but in ‘hot and high’ environments the usable performance is closer to 60% due to the Gem engine reaching its temperature limit before it runs out of power. This allows the Lynx to be able to lift 1000kgs at 3000ft and 30°C allowing it to operate all year round in the ‘hot and high’ environment of Afghanistan. Previously the Lynx could only operate in the winter months.
Fitting the engines and IRS exhausts required a number of modifications to the Lynx including modifications to the main rotor gearbox, rear structure, top deck, fairings, cowlings and electrical systems. The instrument panels, displays and controls were also modified for integration with the new engines and FADEC control system. The rotor pitch authority was also modified to take advantage of the power increase. A total of 3,500 new parts from 60 Tier 1 suppliers were required. Each upgrade took 8 months to complete with 12,000 hours of labours and AgustaWestland was able to turn out one aircraft per month.
The Lynx also had the inclusion of the M3M 0.50 calibre machine gun as part of the upgrade. This has been a massive improvement over the 7.62mm calibre machine gun previously fitted but can’t be fitted alongside the MX-15 camera system. The space required in the back of the Lynx for the equipment to run and monitor the MX-15 was the same space needed for the M3M ammo pack. This had limited the Lynx to carrying out either ‘find’ missions with the camera or ‘strike’ missions with the M3M. A change from the MX-15 to the MX-10 camera system with its much smaller space footprint has allowed an ammo pack for the M3M to also be fitted and the Lynx to carry out both ‘strike’ and ‘find’ roles.
The first four upgrade Lynx were handed over in December 2009 and used for pre-deployment training in Kenya in early 2011. Following this deployment the MoD awarded a contract extension for £42 million to upgrade the remaining 10 Lynx AH9 to the AH9A standard. Included in the contract was a UOR for a Light Assault Helicopter (LAH) capability for 8 of the 10 Lynx. The LAH capability consisted of the M3M machine gun, digital night vision goggles (DNVG), secure radios, a fast roping frame and a 4 man troop seat. The rest of the fleet will have the LAH capability fitted by November 2012 giving a common fleet as part of a separate contract extension awarded in June 2010.
In April 2010 the “nine alpha” was transported to Afghanistan for the first time. It has since flown 4,000 hours in theatre with exceeding the 200 hours per month target. Major James Senior commanded 669 Squadron of the Army Air Corp of a deployment to Afghanistan earlier this year. Speaking of the roles they carried out he said:
“The critical task we were doing was supporting support helicopters in terms of escorting them and keeping them safe. We did a lot of over watch of convoys as they were manoeuvring around the area. We even moved men and material.”
“We did a lot of ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) using our camera, looking for things and helping in that way.”
“Although this is Apache territory, when required and if we were there and Apache was not, we could support troops in contact because we had the gun and the camera.”
This capability of the “nine alpha” has allowed the Lynx to make a much larger impact in Afghanistan and there has been a steady rise in the number of hours the Lynx is flying taskings under its new role. Speaking of the impact this has had Major James Senior said:
“Every single hour flown by Lynx in escort we saved an Apache hour and that freed up those Apaches to go do more important stuff.”
Feedback from Afghanistan has been crucial to make sure the project was delivering what the Army needed. The project team also received requests from the Afghanistan such as the ability to have two M3M machine guns fitted and the fit was cleared for the AH9A (although it hasn’t been used to date).
The upgrade of all 22 Lynx AH9 to AH9A standard finished three months ahead of schedule. More importantly the time saving gave the Army Air Corp an extra 70 weeks of availability throughout the three years. AgustaWestland made a great deal of effort to make sure this project was a success. Including starting work ahead of being awarded the contract by making use of a written off Lynx airframe supplied by the MoD to trial the modifications to the top deck structure. They also made use of their own Super Lynx 300 demonstrator to perform a number of trials. This was recognised in November 2011 when the project received a Chief of Defence Materiel Commendation award.
AgustaWestland plans to make the Lynx replacement program just as successful as the AH9A program has been. The Wildcat is currently in trials with a delivery date of 2014 for the Army and 2015 for the Royal Navy. Both are currently being assembled in Yeovil (the Army variant in higher numbers due to the earlier introduction date).
It takes 160 working days to build a Wildcat and AgustaWestland are aiming to reduce this to 100 working days; a target they believe they will hit by the 21st aircraft. Every step of the process is being analysed by people who have done the same or similar job on other aircraft to find ways to make the process quicker and more efficient. GKN who make the basic frame a mere 200 metres away from the Wildcat production facility are being asked to include as much on the basic frame as possible to streamline the production. Time savings in fitting the wiring loom have also been identified with a total of 32 wiring looms going into the Wildcat fitting each one is a time consuming process. To streamline this process they are now being premade on a jig rather than build around the airframe on the production line. A process is a third faster.