Today, let’s talk about the multi-role helicopters Sea King Mk 41 series Westland Sea King, which Germany is transferring to Ukraine.
Germany continues to support our country by supplying arms and equipment. Now, there is news about the transfer of multi-role helicopters Westland Sea King and the training of crews for them. Initially, the transfer involves only six aircraft, but the disclosed details of this assistance suggest that this batch will not be the last. However, the quantity of these machines, in any case, will not meet Ukraine’s urgent needs for such technology.
So, let’s talk in more detail about these interesting multi-purpose Westland Sea King helicopters.
History of Westland Sea King creation
The multi-role helicopter Westland Sea King, which served in the British Royal Air Force, Navy, the Bundeswehr, and other armies, is a modification of the American Sikorsky S-61/SH-3 Sea King. The original model entered service in the early sixties and soon caught the interest of the British command. This led to a 1966 agreement for the development of new modifications of the American helicopter and the subsequent launch of serial production. The British side in the project was represented by the company Westland and a number of subcontractors.
The first flight of the modified Sea King took place in September 1967. Testing encountered some difficulties, but by the end of the decade, they were successfully overcome. In 1969-70, the new helicopter went into production and began to be deployed in the Royal Navy’s maritime aviation. Later, Westland received orders from the Royal Air Force of the United Kingdom as well.
Serial production of the Sea King began with the anti-submarine version HAS.1. It was later replaced by the improved HAS.2. Subsequently, the HAS.1/2 underwent several upgrades with the assignment of new indices. Search and rescue helicopters, Sea King HAR.3 and HAR.3A, were also built. In the early eighties, the fleet received helicopters for long-range radar surveillance.
Sea King helicopters were built and underwent upgrades until the mid-nineties. By that time, customers had received approximately 360 helicopters of all modifications. The majority of the equipment was supplied to the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force of the United Kingdom. Additionally, orders were fulfilled for several other countries, including Germany, with some countries opting for their own modifications.
As they aged and reached the end of their operational lifespan, Sea King helicopters were gradually decommissioned. By the mid-2010s, Sea King helicopters were considered outdated, prompting the British Armed Forces to phase them out. As of 2015, the Royal Air Force retained only two squadrons, consisting of 25 aircraft of the HAR.3A version. The Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, at that time, had one squadron with 13 AEW.7 airborne early warning helicopters and another with 16 utility HU.5 helicopters.
In 2015, Sea King helicopters were retired from the Royal Air Force, and in 2018, the Royal Navy also phased out these helicopters. The decommissioned aircraft were either placed in storage or sent to museums. Currently, some helicopters from reserve stocks have been prepared for service and are being sent to Ukraine.
Westland Sea King variants
HAS.1 was the base version of the Westland Sea King helicopter designed for anti-submarine warfare, equipped with a dipping sonar and search radar. It first flew in 1969 and was commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1970. This anti-submarine helicopter typically had a crew of four. A total of 56 helicopters of this type were built. Many of them were later upgraded to the improved HAS.2 version.
HAS.2 is an upgraded version designed for anti-surface warfare, developed for the Royal Navy based on the Australian Sea King Mk.50. This helicopter is equipped with more powerful Rolls-Royce Gnome H1400-1 engines, each producing 1535 horsepower. It features a 6-blade tail rotor, upgraded avionics, improved navigation and communication equipment, and a new dipping sonar. In total, 21 helicopters of this version were built from scratch, but many of them were converted from the older HAS.1 version. Later, some HAS.2 helicopters were modified to the AEW.2 standard for airborne early warning tasks.
AEW.2 is the airborne early warning version used by the Royal Navy. A total of 9 helicopters were converted from the Sea King HAS.1 after the Falklands War revealed the absence of onboard early warning equipment. This helicopter was equipped with the Searchwater radar, and the dipping sonar was removed. Sea King AEW.2 typically flew with a crew of three – a pilot and two observers.
HAR.3 is the search and rescue variant operated by the Royal Air Force. This helicopter has additional fuel capacity and extra observation windows. A total of 19 helicopters of this variant were built.
HAR.3A is an enhanced version of the HAR.3, used for search and rescue operations by the Royal Air Force. This helicopter is equipped with upgraded avionics. A total of 6 helicopters of this variant were built.
HC.4, also known as the Westland Commando, is an assault transport helicopter used by the Royal Navy’s aviation. This rotorcraft features an extended cabin and simplified landing gear. It has the capacity to transport 28 military personnel. A total of 42 helicopters of this type were built. The Westland Commando was extensively utilized to support operations in former Yugoslavia by the United Kingdom.
HAS.5 – an upgraded version designed for anti-submarine warfare, utilized by the Royal Navy. It was equipped with more powerful Rolls-Royce Gnome H1400-2 engines, each producing 1660 horsepower. This helicopter featured enhanced anti-submarine equipment and the capability to deploy sonobuoys. It was commissioned into service in 1981. In total, 30 Sea King HAS.5 helicopters were built, along with approximately 55 converted from previous versions.
HAR.5 – a search and rescue variant utilized by the Royal Air Force. It was a modification of the anti-submarine Sea King HAS.5, with the removal of anti-submarine equipment while retaining the search radar.
Airborne Early Warning (AEW) version AEW.5 is utilized by the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom. In total, four anti-submarine Sea King HAS.5 helicopters were converted to this standard.
The universal helicopter HU.5, used by the Royal Navy, was converted from surplus anti-submarine helicopters, the HAS.5.
The anti-submarine warfare version HAS.6, used by the Royal Navy, was equipped with new avionic electronics. A total of 5 helicopters of this type were built, with some being converted from previous versions. This helicopter was part of the armament of all three Invincible-class light aircraft carriers.
The HAS.6 (CR) was a service version of the Sea King helicopter used by the Royal Navy. Five of them were converted from the HAS.6 ASW version. The last of these general-purpose helicopters was retired in 2010.
The AEW7 is a board helicopter for early warning, and it is a conversion of previous Sea King helicopters, specifically the AEW.2 and AEW.5, equipped with the Searchwater 2000 radar.
There are also export versions of the Westland Sea King, which are also worth mentioning.
Mk.41 is a search and rescue version of the HAS.1 used by the German Navy. It features an extended cabin. In total, 23 helicopters were delivered from 1973 to 1975. Since 1986, 20 of these helicopters underwent modernization, equipped with an additional nose radar, and capable of carrying Sea Skua anti-ship missiles. This particular version was transferred to Ukraine, so let’s delve into more details below.
Mk.42 is an export version of the Sea King HAS.1 designed for anti-surface warfare for the Indian Navy. A total of 12 helicopters of this version were constructed.
Mk.42A is a version of the Sea King HAS.2 designed for anti-submarine warfare for the Indian Navy. Only 3 helicopters of this version were constructed.
Mk.42B is a multi-role anti-submarine and anti-ship version designed for the Indian Navy. The helicopter was equipped with a dipping sonar and could carry 2 Sea Eagle missiles. A total of 20 helicopters of this version were delivered.
Mk.42C is a search and rescue, as well as a versatile transport version designed for the Indian Navy. 6 helicopters of this version were constructed.
Mk.43 is a search and rescue version of the Sea King HAS.1 designed for the Royal Norwegian Air Force. This helicopter features an extended cabin. A total of 10 units were manufactured.
Mk.43A, an upgraded version of the Royal Norwegian Air Force. Only one helicopter of this version was built.
Mk.43B is the upgraded version designed for the Royal Norwegian Air Force. It featured updated avionics, improved search radar, as well as a weather radar and FLIR turret. A total of 3 helicopters were constructed, while all remaining Norwegian Mk.43 and Mk.43A units were upgraded to this standard.
Mk.45 is the version of Sea King HAS.1 designed for anti-surface warfare and manufactured for the Pakistan Navy. This helicopter had the capability to carry Exocet anti-ship missiles. A total of 6 units were constructed.
Mk.47 is the version of Sea King HAS.2 designed for anti-surface warfare and manufactured for the Egyptian Navy. A total of 6 helicopters were constructed.
Mk.48 is the search and rescue version based on the Sea King HAS.2 for the Belgian Air Force. It featured an extended cabin. A total of five helicopters were constructed, and they were delivered in 1976.
Mk.50 is a multi-role version designed for the Royal Australian Navy. It is the equivalent of the Sea King HAS.2 helicopter. A total of 10 helicopters of this variant were constructed.
Mk.50A is an enhanced multi-role version for the Royal Australian Navy. It was almost a custom order, with two helicopters delivered in 1981.
Mk.50B, an upgraded multi-role version for the Royal Australian Navy.
Commando Mk.1, an assault and versatile transport version for the Egyptian Air Force. It features an elongated cabin while retaining amphibious capabilities.
Commando Mk.2, an enhanced assault and versatile transport version for the Egyptian Air Force. It was equipped with more powerful engines, and a total of 17 units were built.
Commando Mk.2A, an air assault and transport version for the Qatar Air Force. A total of 3 units were built, and it is practically identical to the Egyptian Mk.2.
Two Commando Mk.2B helicopters were created as VIP transport versions for the Egyptian Air Force. Additionally, 4 Commando Mk.2E helicopters were developed as electronic warfare versions.
One variant of the Commando Mk.2C, a VIP transport version, was constructed for the Qatar Air Force. Additionally, Qatar ordered 8 anti-ship helicopters, Commando Mk.3, equipped with 2 Exocet missiles each.
Design features and capabilities of the Westland Sea King
From a design standpoint, British Sea Kings minimally differ from the American S-61. They are multi-role, single-rotor helicopters with a tail rotor. The large cross-section fuselage accommodates a spacious cabin that can be fitted with various equipment and gear. Certain modifications have the capability to carry hydroacoustic buoys or other armaments.
The length of the helicopter from the fuselage is 17 m, and the diameter of the main rotor with five blades is 18.9 m. Depending on the modification and equipment, the empty weight of the Westland Sea King is no less than 6 tons. The maximum takeoff weight is not less than 9.7 tons.
The power plant includes two Rolls-Royce H.1400 Gnome turboshaft engines with a capacity of 1660 hp each. With their assistance, the helicopter can achieve speeds of over 210 km/h. The flight range is at least 1200 km.
The helicopter was equipped with navigation and piloting instruments that met the standards of the time. Subsequently, the avionics underwent several upgrades to enhance performance and improve overall capabilities. Additionally, the composition of the target equipment was modified over time.
The search and rescue helicopter HAR.3 initially featured the MEL ARI.5955 radar search station. In the HAR.5 project, it was replaced with the more advanced ARI.5991 Sea Searcher, offering increased detection range. Modifications for third-party countries received different radar systems. With the standard radar, these helicopters could detect surface objects and locate signs of accidents to provide assistance to those affected.
The search and rescue helicopter was equipped with various tools and equipment for operations at accident sites and providing assistance. The cargo-passenger cabin could accommodate over 25 passengers or up to 9 casualties on stretchers. The cargo capacity exceeded 3.5 tons, with the option of carrying the load inside the cabin or on the external suspension.
For self-defense, Westland Sea King helicopters were equipped with a 7.62mm machine gun on a special mount in the side doors. The rotorcraft designed for anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare, on the other hand, were equipped with torpedoes, depth charges, or anti-ship missiles.
Sea King Mk.41: from search to rescue
As promised, let’s delve into more details about the Sea King Mk.41 version, as it is the one Germany is transferring to Ukraine.
The Mk.41 is a modified variant of the British Westland Sea King helicopter, which is a licensed version of the Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King. In 1975, 22 Mk.41 helicopters were initially delivered to the MFG 5 of the West German Navy for search and rescue operations on their ships. However, the versatile capabilities of these aircraft allowed them to be adapted for various tasks.
They began using this air transport for the transportation of material resources and personnel, operations in providing assistance during emergencies and natural disasters. The helicopters also took part in evacuation operations for the wounded, maritime surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as directly in naval warfare. Although the Sea King Mk.41 is supposed to be replaced by the NH Helicopter 90 NTH Sea Lion, it remains in service to this day.
Mk.41 is based on HAS.Mk.1, but initial German requirements and subsequent modernization led to significant differences from its predecessor. One of the rear bulkheads was shifted backward to free up more space in the cabin, and a blister window was added to the rear fuselage. Due to its initial role, the SAR Sonar was not included, although the radar was retained. In the mid-1980s, the Kampfwertsteigerung (KWS) program began, aiming to significantly expand the capabilities of the Sea King Mk.41. It involved adding four Sea Skua AShM portable missiles, as well as two Ferranti Sea Spray Mk 3 radars for their guidance. Additionally, four chaff dispensers M-130 and the AN/ALR-66 radar warning receiver were installed. Sea King Mk.41 also featured a navigator door position that could be equipped with the FN M3M 12.7 HMG machine gun. Other upgrades showed that Sea King Mk.41 could be equipped with the Pall APME Centrisep deflector on the engine’s front intakes instead of the original deflector.
Technical specifications of Sea King Mk.41
- Length: 22.1 m
- Width: 4,9 м
- Height: 5,1 м
- Take-off weight: 9300 kg
- Power: 2500 kW (3400 hp) from a twin-shaft engine
- Speed: 252 km/h
- Flight ceiling: 3800 м
- Armament: four Sea Skua AShM missiles, one FN M3M 12.7 HMG 12.7 machine gun
- Self-defence: four M-130 decoy dispensers, AN/ALR-66 radar warning receiver
- Sensors: two Sea Spray 3000, FLIR radars
- Crew: 3-4 people
For our Armed Forces, acquiring transport helicopters like the Sea King Mk.41 is crucial. It will provide the opportunity to replenish the helicopter fleet. I am confident that our personnel will find effective ways to utilize such a transport aircraft. In any case, the Sea King Mk.41 will definitely not be redundant.
In the current conditions of intense battles with occupiers, every precision projectile, every combat vehicle, every air defense system, and every cruise missile are extremely vital for us. Therefore, we sincerely want to express our gratitude to our Western friends and partners for their assistance and support. Invaders have nowhere to escape from accountability. Glory to Ukraine! Death to enemies! Glory to the Armed Forces of Ukraine!