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Wildcat For The Special Forces? Probably.

07.02.2016

For some time it has been speculated that a version of the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat helicopter would be procured for dedicated support of the Special Forces. A report back in 2012 indicated that it a buy of up to 8 Wildcats for the special forces support role was being planned. Since then, however, there has been little to no follow up news on the matter. While there is still no firm information available, a recent interview with the head of the UK Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) gives at least a hint that a special forces Wildcat is still on the cards.

In a video on the IHS Aerospace Defence & Security Youtube channel, Major General Richard Felton CBE provides an overview of the JHC's current status and capabilties. When discussing the introduction into service of the Wildcat Mk1 with the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) and Army Air Corps (AAC), Major General Felton mentions that "there will probably be a Special Forces attribution in due course". (the Wildcat section starts at around 3 minutes into the video embedded below)

So, 'probably' is the best we have for now. It is assumed that it will be 657 Squadron, AAC who will be the end user of any special ops Wildcats. They currently operate a number of Lynx Mk9as in the special forces role.

The entire video is an interesting look at the state of the JHC fleet of helicopters. The JHC oversees all of the UK's battlefield helicopters, including Lynx, Wildcat and Apache helicopters flown by the Army Air Corps, Chinooks and Pumas flown by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Merlins and Wildcats operated by the Navy's Commando Helicopter Force. Many of the aircraft types within the JHC are undergoing extensive upgrades. Another significant upcoming development will be the retiring of the Sea King Mk4 from the CHF. 848 NAS (CHF) is the last user of the type, operating it in the Maritime Counter Terrorism (MCT) role. In late March the MCT commitment will pass to the Merlins of 846 NAS (CHF) and 848 NAS will disband, thus ending the Sea King's CHF story.

A Wildcat Mk1 of 847 NAS, Commando Helicopter Force. The Wildcat features a sophisticated set of sensors and communications systems that enable its primary role as an Intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) platform. This capability would also be highly useful in the special operations role. In regular service, the Wildcat Mk1 will be armed with a single M3M .50 cal machine gun, mounted in the port cabin doorway. In the special forces role, the M3M may sometimes be replaced with a M134 7.62mm minigun, as is thought to be the case with 657 Sqn Lynxes.

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