Merlin Helicopter Force
The Merlin Helicopter Force is based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall and comprises three naval air squadrons (NAS) operating the Merlin Mk2 aircraft – 814, 820 and 824 NAS.
There are more than 40 Merlins in service with the Fleet Air Arm in training and front-line squadrons. In 2014, the Merlin Mark 1 fleet was upgraded to Mark 2.
Merlin is the world’s most potent submarine hunting helicopter. It has been in service with the Fleet Air Arm since the late 1990s and on the front line since 2000. Its primary job is to find – and if necessary, destroy – enemy submarines using dipping sonar, sonobuoys and Sting Ray torpedoes.
In 2021, the Mk2 was enhanced with a role conversion project called Crowsnest, which allows the aircraft to be used either in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and general maritime duties configuration or for airborne surveillance and control (ASaC) with the addition of a powerful radar. The ASaC aircraft are deployed with the Royal Navy’s carrier strike group and can fly up to a mile and half above the fleet looking ‘over the horizon’ for possible threats. The aircraft also play a role as a communications link in coordinating strike operations.
814 Naval Air Squadron – the Flying Tigers (from its badge) – flies ASW Merlin Mk2 aircraft from ships and air bases around the world. Its primary role is to protect the UK’s sea-based nuclear deterrent from submarine threats. It also has a role in maritime counter-terrorism.
820 Naval Air Squadron is the dedicated carrier strike group squadron, protecting the UK’s carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales of Wales and their escorts and support ships from threats below and on the water and in the air. The squadron flies the Merlin Mk2 in both ASW and ASaC roles.
824 Naval Air Squadron feeds the two front-line Merlin squadrons with the men and women needed to fly and maintain these world-class helicopter fighting units. The squadron trains aircraft engineers and aircrew in both ASW and ASaC roles of the Merlin Mk2, in the classroom, in simulators and in real aircraft.