PN AW-159 Wildcat Helicopters’ lack of Defensive System and Link 16 Datalink

The Philippine Navy’s two AW159 Wildcat Helicopters. Photo by Westleigh Bushell thru Flickr.

The South Korean Defense website Defense Times posted an article comparing the AW159 Wildcat helicopters of the South Korean (SKN) and Philippine Navy (PN).1 The article is written in the Korean alphabet called Hangul, but Google Translate does a decent job of making the article understandable in English.

It noted that Philippine Wildcats lack the Helicopter Integrated Defensive Aids System (HIDAS)-15 Defensive Suite and the Link 16 Tactical Data Link (TDL) found on the South Korean Helicopters.

Note though that aside from that, everything else is more or less the same, meaning the PN Wildcats still has Dipping Sonar, the ability to launch Torpedoes and Missiles, a Surface Search Radar with an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) antenna that can detect sea and air targets, etc. Also, the PN’s Wildcats can be upgraded to have these two in the future if desired.

’HIDAS-15’
The HIDAS-152 is the same defensive suite that equips the AH-64 Apache helicopters of the United Kingdom (UK) and it consists of a Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) with a Defensive Aids System Controller, Missile Warning System (MWS) and a Counter Measures Dispensing System (CMDS).

The RWR detects if another radar has detected the helicopter and can also provide the estimated direction and distance of the radar source. The MWS detects if there is an approaching missile nearby and the CMDS releases the Chaff and Flare Decoys needed to help drive away the incoming missile/s.

The system is fully automated, meaning it can function on its own, informing the Pilot of Radar and Missile threats and then releasing the decoys automatically as needed. The automation increases the system’s effectiveness as it can respond to threats very quickly, faster than any manual system can.

’Limited ASUW Capability’
The lack of defensive systems limits the ability of the PN’s Wildcat Helicopter to conduct Anti Surface Warfare (ASUW, meaning against ships) to only against vessels whose Surface to Air Missiles (SAM) are only less than 30 km, which is also the maximum range of the Wildcat’s Spike NLOS missiles.3

For example, it can go up against the Chinese Navy’s smaller vessels like their Type 056 Jiangdao class Corvettes which are armed with HHQ-10 anti-air missiles that has a maximum range of only 10 km.4

China’s bigger and newer ships though are armed with much longer ranged missiles, well beyond the range of the Spike NLOS. Their Type 054A Jiangkai II Frigates are armed with HHQ-16 missiles which has a range of up to 74 km.

Their Destroyers have even longer ranged missiles, like the Type 052C Luyang II class and the Type 052D Luyang III class Destroyers are armed with HHQ-9 and HHQ-9 Extended Range missiles with ranges of up 102 to 148 km.5

Even with a Defensive Suite, going up against those modern Frigates and Destroyers would still be very dangerous. However, going up against them without any Defensive Suite at all would be almost surely fatal.

’SLAM’
Another issue are Submarine Launched Anti-aircraft Missiles (SLAM). As their name implies, these are missiles that can be launched from Submarines to attack aircraft. As of now there are two types,6 the first one has the launcher installed on the Conning Tower requiring the Sub to at least partially surface above the water before the missile can be fired.

The other type is more sinister since it allows the missile to be launched directly from the Torpedo Tubes, allowing the Sub to react faster since it doesn’t have to surface to fire the missile. The missile and/or missile carrier is ejected out of the tube, which then makes its way to the surface and once there it ignites its aerial propulsion to search and attack an aircraft.

These SLAM weapons are best used as “Last Ditch” weapons, meaning they are only used once the Submarine has already been detected and tracked. Otherwise, the Submarine will just be revealing its position since the launch of these SLAMs can be detected.

’Chinese SLAMs?’
As of now, the Europeans (with their A3SM7 system by MBDA and DCNS, and the Interactive Defense and Attack System (IDAS)8 missile by Thysenkrupp and Diehl Defence) and the Russians (with their Igla and Strela missiles) have these available for their Submarines.

I could not find any reference saying that China has developed and installed their own SLAMs for their Subs. They do have a dozen Russian built Kilo Submarines, but right now it is kinda hazy whether they are equipped with SLAMs or not.

It seems that SLAMs are available for export on the Kilo class Submarines as a report notes that the ones that were sold to Iran were armed with Strela missiles.9 However, another report says that China’s Kilo Subs “may not” have been armed with SLAMs.10

Also, most of the reports about China’s Kilo Subs doesn’t mention any SLAMs at all,11 so I’m more inclined to believe that they don’t. If so, then operating against Chinese Submarines are safe for our Wildcat helicopters, at least for now.

However, knowing China’s manufacturing capability, it is likely that they will be able to develop their own SLAMs relatively quickly should they choose to do so since they do already make SAMs of their own.

’No Link 16’
In simplest terms, Link 16 is a TDL system standard used by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its close allies to allow a secure and jam resistant exchange of voice, imagery and text information between their military assets in near real-time condition.12 These usually comes in the form of terminals which are fitted into each asset which allow the sending and receiving of information to and from other terminals.

Our Wildcats will of course still be able to function on their own even without a Link 16 TDL, but it will not be able to share or receive information directly as well when we are conducting joint operations with NATO forces and their allies.

For example, if ships or submarines are spotted by NATO assets, they won’t be able to share it directly with our Wildcats thru datalink. And vice versa, if our Wildcats do the same, they can’t share it directly with NATO forces also using datalink. The Wildcats still have Radios which can communicate with NATO forces using Voice and Alphanumeric data, but the flow of information would be limited and won’t be as fast.

This is a bit ironic as much of the controversy surrounding the Rizal class Frigates had been the issue of its Naval Shield Combat Management System (CMS) not being compatible with the Link 16 TDL standard.13

So with the Wildcats (which will eventually be assigned to the Frigates) not having Link 16 capability, even if the Frigates have Link 16 terminals, their combination won’t be able to share as much information to NATO and allied forces.

But just like the Defensive Systems, the Wildcat can be installed with Link 16 Terminals in the future if the Navy so desires and the funding for them becomes available.

’Technical Specifications’
A look at the Technical Specifications (TS) for the Anti-Submarine Helicopter Acquisition Project14 used for the bidding shows that the Defensive Systems indeed were not included there. There is a requirement for a datalink, but it is not specified as Link 16 standard, which means that the bidder can use any datalink standard for the aircraft.

The specifications also state that aside from the helicopters, at least one compatible datalink terminal should also be installed aboard a ship. This means that the Wildcats will be able to exchange information not only with each other but also with the Frigates.

As to why these two items were left out of the TS, a possible reason could be due to budget constraints because as expensive these aircraft already are, more money still needed to be spent for a complete system.

The budget we set aside for ours was around USD 57 million per aircraft,15 but South Korea spent USD 71 million each for their Wildcats with complete systems,16 a difference of USD 14 million per aircraft.

’Parting Shot’
Our Navy won’t master the use of these Wildcat Helicopters with the Frigates overnight, it will take some time for them to do so. Hence there will be enough time for the government to acquire the Defensive Systems and Link 16 TDL if they so desire.

I think it is very much worthwhile to get these additional equipment in the future as these Wildcat Helicopters are the most expensive aircraft the Philippines has bought recently so far. Hence maximizing their capability to improve their survivability and usefulness would be something that I feel is worth doing.

A full scale model of an Interactive Defense and Attack System (IDAS) missile made by Thysenkrupp and Diehl Defence. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

SOURCES:


  1. 필리핀 와일드 캣에 대해서 (About Wildcats in the Philippines),
    (https://archive.fo/OLVhG
  2. Helicopter Integrated Defensive Aids System AW159 Lynx,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20190606094903/https://www.leonardocompany.com/documents/20142/3149369/HIDAS_15_LQ_mm07744_.pdf
  3. Rafael sharpens Spike Missile offering,
    (https://archive.fo/AjZ4e
  4. Type 056 class Corvette,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20161011123850/http://www.military-today.com/navy/type_056_class_corvette.htm
  5. The PLA Navy: New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20170312064929/https://fas.org/irp/agency/oni/pla-navy-2015.pdf
  6. Have Submarine-Launched Anti-Aircraft Missiles finally come of Age?,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20180402111347/https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/6894/have-submarine-launched-anti-aircraft-missiles-finally-come-of-age
  7. A3SM: A True Game Changer for Submarines Self Defence against Threats from the Sky,
    (https://archive.fo/IbsF4
  8. IDAS – Interactive Defense and Attack System for Submarines,
    (https://archive.fo/CFqyf
  9. Iran’s Military Forces in Transition: Conventional Threats and Weapons of Mass Destruction by Anthony H. Cordesman, p. 204 
  10. Kilo class on the SinoDefence Website,
    (https://archive.fo/N8HFS
  11. Undersea Dragons: China’s Maturing Submarine Force by Lyle Goldstein and William Murray, International Security Vol. 28, No. 4 (Spring, 2004) published by The MIT Press, p. 165 
  12. Interoperability: A Continuing Challenge, Chapter Nine, Tactical Data Links,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20180101030139/https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1235/MR1235.chap9.pdf
  13. Smooth sailing from now on for Navy’s Warship deal,
    (https://archive.fo/RHTzW
  14. Anti-Submarine Helicopter Acquisition Project Technical Specifications,
    (https://docdro.id/HPCql2u
  15. Philippine Navy orders two AW159 Wildcats,
    (https://archive.fo/BdHrd
  16. Korea Chooses AgustaWestland Wildcat for Maritime Ops,
    (https://archive.fo/i7OWk

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