Sea Kings embark HMS Ocean in preparation for aircraft carrier arrival

Photo: Royal Navy

Royal Navy’s Sea King Mk7 airborne surveillance and control helicopters have joined HMS Ocean in the Gulf to practise in preparation for Merlin helicopters that will succeed the Sea Kings as the carrier’s ‘flying eyes’.

After years over the sands of Afghanistan – where their radars proved vital in tracking the movements of insurgents on the ground – the Sea Kings of 849 Naval Air Squadron are re-learning the art of working with a carrier task group, led by HMS Ocean.

They will need their skills once the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers enter the fleet.

The helicopter assault ship is currently the flagship of the only carrier group in the Gulf, Combined Task Force 50 – the first time a Royal Navy warship and its staff have taken command of a predominantly US Navy force.

Ocean is three times smaller than HMS Queen Elizabeth – due to begin her sea trials later this year – but the experience of operating at sea, in a challenging environment – even in January temperatures are in the 20s Celsius – in an operational theatre alongside British and Allied warships and aircraft is invaluable.

The Sea Kings were originally designed to provide Royal Navy aircraft carriers airborne early warning of impending threats.

They still do, but the latest variant of the veteran helicopter and its radar system – contained in the giant black sack, or bag, which gives the Sea Kings their ‘bagger’ nicknames – is equally useful in tracking movements on the ground (hence its success in Afghanistan) or on the surface of the ocean.

Once those threats are identified, the observers operating the computer consoles in the back of the Sea Kings direct allied air, naval or ground forces to intercept.

Bagger squadron 849 NAS is rotating its three flights – Normandy, Okinawa and Palembang – through the Gulf, taking advantage of RN and RFA vessels operating in the region to get their sea legs back.

With the arrival of Ocean, however, the flights – currently Palembang – can considerably expand the training (benefiting them and the future RN) thanks to Merlin helicopters embarked to protect Ocean’s group from surface and, especially, submarine threats.

The result is that aircrew and task group staff can test the ability of the two different helicopter types to work together to help protect the task force from threats coming from every dimension.

By the time Queen Elizabeth begins operations, the Sea King will have finally retired (after 49 years’ service with the Fleet Air Arm), but the ‘bagger’ function will be taken over by ‘Crowsnest’ – Merlins fitted with a similar radar and sensors which will be indispensable when it comes to F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters conducting targeted strike missions.


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Sea-Air-Space 2018

Sea-Air-Space is now the largest maritime exposition in the U.S. and continues as an invaluable extension of the Navy League’s mission…

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Maritime Reconnaissance and Surveillance Technology 2017

Maximising Maritime Situational Awareness Capabilities for the Safety and Protection of International Waters

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After last year’s huge success the SMi Group is proud to announce the 2nd Maritime Reconnaissance and Surveillance Technology. The event will be held in Rome on the 30th and 31st of January 2017.

Based on the success of the 2016 conference, we aim to replicate and improve by providing a more regional focus, not just on the Mediterranean, but other areas of interest including the Black Sea and further beyond in the Asia Pacific region. All of which have keen collective interest on ensuring the safety and security of legitimate maritime activities.

This high level meeting will bring together senior military leadership, project decision makers, technical experts and cutting edge industry solution providers to explore future endeavours that will enhance the security and stability of the world’s oceans.

The 2017 programme will:

  • Provide a wider regional focus outside of the Mediterranean where challenges are also persistent
  • Feature high ranking military personnel involved with the enhancement of maritime surveillance platforms and systems
  • Present a running theme on the importance of information sharing as operations are increasingly conducted at an international level
  • Include Informal networking time to talk to peers and colleagues also shaping and influencing Maritime ISR programs today
  • Allow learning on how other nations are developing their maritime surveillance and reconnaissance provision from past experience and cutting edge research and development
  • Get to the heart of challenges faced by modern maritime forces such as capability gaps and what requirements they now have


  • Rear Admiral Giovanbattista Raimondi, Chief of C4 and Security Department, Italian Navy
  • Rear Admiral Nicola Carlone, Chief of Operations, Italian Coast Guard
  • Colonel Sergio Cavuoti, Chief of the Intelligence and Awareness Policy Branch of the Air Staff Aerospace Planning Division, Italian Air Force


  • Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino, EU Navfor Med Operation Commander, EU Naval Force
  • Commodore William Ellis, Commander CTF-67, US Naval Forces Europe
  • Captain Jan De Beurme, Chief of Staff, Belgian Navy
  • Captain Fernando Angelo, Director, Navy Intelligence Analysis Centre,  Portuguese Navy 
  • Wing Commander Richard Berry, P-8 Poseidon Program Manager, Royal Air Force
  • Commander Michael Sela, Head of C5I Branch in the R&D department, Israeli Navy
  • Commander Pasi Staff, Chief of Surveillance, Finnish Navy
  • Commander Hannes Schroeder-Lanz, Branch Chief C4ISR, Germany Navy
  • Guy Thomas, Director, C-SIGMA
  • Gerard O’Flynn, Head of SAR Ops, Irish Coast Guard
  • Leendert Bal, Head of Department C Operations, European Maritime Safety
  • Joachim Beckh, Technical Working Group Chair, MARSUR
  • Vice Admiral (Ret’d) Peter Hudson, Former Commander, NATO MARCOM







Register online at: or email Justin Predescu on


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