Integrating Complex Weapons and Aircraft

A few days ago I posted a quick article on the contract award to Thales and Agusta Westland for the integration onto the Royal Navy Wildcat helicopters of the Future Anti Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy) and Future Anti Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy), or FASGW(H) (Sea Venom) and Future Anti Surface Guided Weapon (Light).

From the Agusta Westland press release

AgustaWestland is pleased to announce that it has signed a contract with the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) valued at £90 million to integrate, test and install the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (FASGW) Heavy and Light missile systems onto 28 Royal Navy AW159 Wildcat helicopters

£90 million of the Queen’s Pounds to fit two missiles types to 28 helicopters.

Janes added a few more details

Flight and firing trials of the missiles from the Wildcat is scheduled to occur over a 12-month period from 2017-18 from ranges in Scotland, and possibly the Aberporth range in Wales.

At Eurosatory Thales were awarded a £48 million contract…

The contract covers the development, qualification and integration of the FASGW(L) system – which comprises a five barrel launcher and a laser guidance system – for the Agusta Westland AW159 Wildcat helicopter, and provision of deployable test equipment.

Does that mean there will be another contract to MBDA for similar ‘qualification and integration’ for FASGW(H) or is that included in the recent contract announcements regarding the new Sea Venom, or FASGW(H)?

£138 million

In the comments on another post one of our knowledgeable commenters linked to the Society of Cost Analysis and Forecasting, specifically a presentation about work the MoD and industry had been doing on modelling and prediction of integration costs for complex weapons delivered by two people from the Cost Analysis and Assurance Service at DE&S.

The opening slide describes a challenge.

For any future weapons or aircraft programme, significantly reduce the cost, and time taken  for systems integration

One of the elements of meeting that challenge was to develop a modelling methodology that could be used to predict integration costs by analysing the cost drivers of real world projects.

The key industry participants were.

Integrating Complex Weapons 01
Integrating Complex Weapons – Industry Partners

The study describes the components of integration in terms of complexity against weapon, platform and environment factors.

Integrating Complex Weapons 02
Integrating Complex Weapons

Wildcat and FASGW(H), Average Complexity Level 1.3

Wildcat and FASGW(L), Average Complexity Level 2

Typhoon and Storm Shadow, Average Complexity Level 3.3

By averaging the three main contributing factors a better fit was derived than looking at them individually.

This informed a regression analysis and using current estimates against in progress projects a degree of certainty about the method obtained.

Integrating Complex Weapons
Integrating Complex Weapons

Given this presentation is over 18 months old, how does it compare?

For Typhoon and Storm Shadow it defined an SME informed complexity level 3.3, which should correlate to a best fit cost of about £150 million.

And so a few weeks ago the Storm Shadow integration contract was announced, reported by Janes

£150 million

Magic, the estimate was borne out by an actual contract.

Which brings us back to…

Wildcat and FASGW(H), Average Complexity Level 1.3, from the graph above, the estimate would be £50 million

Wildcat and FASGW(L), Average Complexity Level 2, from the graph above, the estimate would be £75 million

How does £50m and £75m compare to the actual contract awards?

It is difficult to tell because it is not clear what they involve exactly but an estimate of £125 million for the pair would not look a particularly good match given the two contact announcements. It is also not clear why Thales have a contract for integration of LMM but no announcement from MBDA for Sea Venom and an Agusta Westland contract announcement for both.

If we look at the upper estimate curve, combining the two shows we have got ourselves a bit of a bargain!

Still, puzzling why a separate Thales announcement.

The point of all this is…

Complex stuff is expensive and without the full details of what a contract involves you can’t really make a meaningful comparison.

Interesting nonetheless.

It is also good to see that the MoD is doing some heavy lifting with industry to try and get these costs under control because the current situation is investments in expensive complex weapons are not fully maximised by improving launch platform diversity because integration costs are so eye watering.

These also illustrate perfectly why it makes sense to pool the costs with other nations by using common weapons and harmonised certification and integration processes.

Wildcat Helicopter
Wildcat Helicopter
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July 30, 2014 4:48 pm

Why, oh why are they only fitting the LMM to the RN Wildcats and not the Army/Marines ones, especially as the PR blurb specifically mentions that this weapon can be used against mobile land targets?

July 30, 2014 5:02 pm

One of the points about LMM is it’s cheap because it’s a simple development from Startstreak. As such we’ve ordered 1,000 which should be enough for the Navy and Army. So for the cost of not spending £50 million to integrate this the Army is willing to see 34 Wildcats flying around just with machine guns and a few unguided rockets. Just how many Apache upgrades would the Army theoretically be losing if they did this? Maybe it would have been better to save a bit of money by making FRES a bit less complicated and a bit more off the shelf and then they could have afforded to upgrade Apache and give Wildcat some teeth?

July 30, 2014 5:16 pm

Presumably the biggest risk to the Apache upgrade is the treasury realising that if you armed the Army’s Wildcats with LMM and possibly something like the BAE Gama turret you have a platform that can do 80% of the role of the Apache at a lower cost per hour, thereby risking the entire Apache upgrade, and stuffing the Army when we need Apache in its core role where a LMM/20mm cannon armed wildcat wouldn’t cut it.

July 30, 2014 5:40 pm

‘Maybe it would have been better to save a bit of money by making FRES a bit less complicated and a bit more off the shelf’

Agreed, and may be we could just keep using the Lynx MK9 that were upgraded to MK9A and not buy the Wildcat at all.

The Other Chris
July 30, 2014 5:41 pm

Interesting point. Suggest we explore the opposite case.

Can an LMM and FASGW(H) equipped Wildcat, bearing in mind the latters land attack mode, perform the role currently fulfilled by Apache?

What is missing from its equipment and specifications for the role?

e.g. GAU-19 pod, Brimstone integration?

What could Wildcat being to the role?

e.g. Superior maritime deployment and safety for crew?

July 30, 2014 5:56 pm

‘Can an LMM and FASGW(H) equipped Wildcat, bearing in mind the latters land attack mode, perform the role currently fulfilled by Apache?’

That’s my point we are buying brand new helicopters that are not needed, and which are going to pull funds away from airframes already in service. The MK9A Lynx (which have the same engines and transmission, with a lighter airframe) can fulfil the role of battlefield scout and we have Apache for the AH role. Rather than saving money and continuing to use the Lynx and then be able to upgrade the Apache we will have a bun fight about how the Wildcat can fulfil 80% of the capability of the Apache rather than upgrading the airframe. Why do we not buy Wildcat and integrate the LMM and FASGW(H) on the Apache when we upgrade it, rather than putting it’s upgrade in question by buying a helicopter we have no need for?

July 30, 2014 6:06 pm


If we really wanted an airframe that the was useful to the Navy, RM and Army we would have really bought NH90/Blackhawk type airframes. Or am I being a bit cynical when I think both the dark blue and AW share holders were stamping their feet at the time of the deal, not to mention a cushy job for an ex defence sec and no doubt some senior officers?

July 30, 2014 7:06 pm

Aren’t we all forgetting those 8 “light” attack Widcats that were nibbled away equally, I seem to remember, from the army/navy allocated numbers.

Fully marinised
Able to fly from smaller decks
No spec seen… Well, I haven’t
Supposedly the ” gunships” for the smaller scale,more sneaky RM/ SF ops, when you don’t want to advertise in advance by sending the one Apache capable ship (Ocean/ QE)?

The Other Chris
July 30, 2014 7:34 pm

AW159 does not have the same transmission as the Mk9.

Tail rotor system, winglets and boom are a new design, reducing the amount of engine power required to deliver the same counter-torque, especially at cruise. Gearbox redesigned to for higher continuous power SHP to get more out of the same engines as the Mk9/300.

Airframe is stronger, increased to 12,000hr life, has a far higher growth potential. Lets you carry larger engines and replace the gearbox/transmission in future as well as carry more weight now and then. Crash worthiness ratings increased.

Avionics and tactical systems are now plug and play with potential for optionally manned developments coming out of TMUAS with the same platform being used on the SW-4 Solo CCD.

July 30, 2014 10:06 pm

‘AW159 does not have the same transmission as the Mk9’

Does it have the same transmission of the MK9A? I don’t know myself but the MK9a has performed pretty well in Afghan.

‘Airframe is stronger, increased to 12,000hr life, has a far higher growth potential’

Although the MK9A has a lighter airframe?

@TOC can you tell me what we are actually paying for, and why?

The Other Chris
July 30, 2014 10:12 pm

For Mk9 read Mk9a above. Only so far my predictive text goes. Apologies for confusion.

In a nutshell Mk9a has a weaker airframe and limited growth potential.

The Other Chris
July 30, 2014 10:14 pm

It also can’t deliver as much power for as long.

Brian Black
Brian Black
July 31, 2014 6:54 am

They’re styled Light Assault Helicopters, ACC, not Light Attack.

Role equipment to include stuff like a fast roping frame, door gun mounts, lighting; not Apache-lite whiz bangs.

I assume we’ll buy the new Apache at a whopping cost, then integrate LMM so that the Army can do what they could have done less expensively with Wildcat alone, and then spend another few hundred million integrating LMM onto green Wildcats anyway.

I think not arming the Army Wildcats from the start is a bad idea. And for those folks who think that giving the AAC Wildcats light missiles would compromise the Apache rebuilds, well if the next Apache block offers so little over and above what a Wildcat with LMM can do that it would put the Apache at risk, then we really shouldn’t be wasting any money on it at all.

Ace Rimmer
July 31, 2014 7:35 am

T.O.C the transmission of the Wildcat is very similar to the Lynx, the head and blades are the same, which raises a couple of problems. If you go over to Pprune, the pilots there say that the Lynx starts to get a bit wobbly at Maximum All Up Weight, using the same head and blades, the Wildcat is around a tonne heavier, which is going to make for some interesting flying fully loaded, especially in hot and high conditions.

Slightly Agricultural
Slightly Agricultural
July 31, 2014 8:04 am

@TD Perhaps Thales have a seperate integration contract as the “Complex Weapons” partnership with MBDA already covers that for their offerings? Just an educated guess – not really up on the details for that deal.

Considering 10x LMM (and even 2x 30mm chain gun pods for commonality w/ AH-1) is completely plausible for Wildcat, and a hefty set of teeth, it does seem daft to declaw the ‘cat from the outset for politics. Though I can understand wanting to protect the Apache upgrade. Such is the daft state of rotary wing aviation in this country.

John Hartley
John Hartley
July 31, 2014 8:06 am

Switching slightly to integrating missiles on FJ, I read an interview recently with a lady executive from SAAB. Asked why they were doing the test firing for Meteor, she replied that as a small country, they need to find the most cost effective way of doing things. So they are happy to get an interim capability, perhaps on just one pair of hardpoints, subsonic operations, gain knowledge/experience on that, then slowly move to other hardpoints/supersonic carry, etc. Lets them spread the cost, cut out gold plating, get a basic capability quicker.

The Other Chris
July 31, 2014 8:20 am

The MK9A and earlier does squirrel around somewhat. AW159 mitigates that with the aforementioned uprated gearbox (supports higher MAUW, previously mentioned higher continuous power) and tail transmission, new tail rotor and wings. Basically, Wildcat shifts the performance envelope to the right rather than lifting the upper bar and adds in electronics, power and cooling for all the neat payloads that will really make it shine over the Lynx.

My beef with the Wildcat is I don’t think it went far enough and if I may venture I think that’s the main concern being ventured here too? It does’t raise the bar, just fills out the envelope underneath the bar?

There was scope to keep to Lynx MK9A’s as you and DN assert, and I think we could have pressed AW (and others) further. Consider the S-97 and AVX designs in the US FVL program as a starting point. AW159 is by no means a lame duck.

I’ve always been a fan of the principles (not the build and logistics) behind the KA-28 coaxial series and felt that Western rotorcraft companies could achieve a more powerful and longer legged aircraft in the same footprint as the Lynx while combating the Kamov’s deficiencies. More rigid blades to combat flap and limit rotor collision for example. Would provide a compact airframe for tight landing for the Army and compact storage for the RN while lifting more.

Brian Black sums up the Apache situation well: If Wildcat is a genuinely serious threat to its Role, we should seriously be reconsidering an Apache purchase and instead bulk out the Wildcat fleet numbers significantly.

Maybe pass the savings onto help with a very serious Puma replacement program. That’s going to be a crucial equipment program.

July 31, 2014 8:35 am

I find it fascinating that the integration of FASGW(L) is considered more complex than FASGW(H).
As I understand it FASGW(L) is a straight forward beam riding missile as someone says developed from starstreak.
FASGW(H) has to be cue’d ( from Radar I believe, which should be interesting for an IR imaging missile ) can be fired off bore site ( if it mimics Sea Skua as they say it will ) and streams targeting data and can take more detailed targeting commands on route. Times 4
( not to mention is a lot physically bigger \ heavier etc etc etc )
You would think that might all take quite a lot of “integration” ?

The Other Chris
July 31, 2014 9:20 am

Understandable. LMM has more modes: Wildcat’s SeaSpray supports aircraft detection and can target aircraft for LMM to engage for example.

There’s also more warhead natures planned in addition to improved seekers, though I suspect that will cost even more to integrate!

Japan are now getting involved with advanced seekers for Meteor. Wonder if that bilateral development agreement will trickle down to further improve other MBDA missiles?

July 31, 2014 9:29 am

@ The Other Chris

Gosh really, i was unaware of those features, thats quite a potent AA capability. I had assumed a rather point and click affair. I can see why this would be quite involved then.

Thanks for the info.


The Other Chris
July 31, 2014 11:13 am

Lunchtime reading for those interested:

Jane’s IDR article on Wildcat, includes differences (and commonality with) MK9A and Super Lynx 300 export version.

Older presentation on LMM development lines, note lack of direct mention of AA capability, only requirement for operation from existing HVM (Starstreak) launchers.

July 31, 2014 12:56 pm

TOC, what’s this about air-to-air on Wildcat? Think you may have leaped too far there.

The Other Chris
July 31, 2014 3:22 pm

Sorry, got carried away on the MPA thread. Only just seen this, apologies. All the elements are there:

– SeaSpray 7000E air-to-air mode for cuing the turret;
– Wescam MX-15Di automatic tracking and steering with 180 degree forward unrestricted view;
– LMM carries the same beam riding seeker and guidance as Starstreak (SAL coming later);
– All three systems linked by Wildcat’s common Tactical Processor.

Just down to whether the FASGW(L) integration work facilities the scenario.

The FASGW(L) integration is more complex than FASGW(H) because the latter only requires the SeaSpray and the missile components, rather than adding the turret based designator into the equation required by FASGW(L).

July 31, 2014 5:02 pm

@The Other Chris

Regards FASGW(L) anti-air capability. In addition to what you have mentioned it is important not to forget (with respect to the LMM) the blast fragmentation aspect of the multi-role warhead coupled with the anti-air proximity mode fuzing, the munition has the potential to provide the Wildcat with a potent anti-helicopter and anti-UAV capability (for those chance encounters). There is no requirement on FASGW(L) to provide an anti-air capability but I believe the integration work may deliver something that will facilitate this (i.e. selectable LMM fuze mode) by way of a nice bonus

John Hartley
John Hartley
August 1, 2014 10:48 am

Found the article I was rambling on about. Its in Farnborough Airshow News, 15 July 2014, “Saab masters low-cost weapons integration” by Chris Pocock. Lisa Abom of Saab says they can integrate weapons for $85 to $170 million, whereas they here their competitors efforts can cost $270 million.

John Hartley
John Hartley
August 7, 2014 9:27 am

The Tuesday Farnborough airshow news from Aviation Week, had an article on Raytheon trying to sell the SDB II to the UK for the F-35B
One bit caught my eye “SDBII is a UAI (Universal Armament Interface)-based weapon. but not all airplanes are UAI compatible”. says White. “Raytheon is in the process of developing a translator box, called the Interface Bridge. If you put a weapon on an airplane with the Interface Bridge, the weapon now thinks its on a UAI airplane & the airplane thinks it has a legacy weapon. All SDBII information will reside in the box, & the box will translate the information. This would be a low cost integration tool, which might be beneficial for some customers”.

August 7, 2014 9:55 am

The SDB II would be a great addition to the F35B , with a potential 40m + standoff range and targeting package that covers everything . As we saw on TD ‘s post on integrating a weapon on the Wildcat it can be very expensive so this interface that fools the plane into thinking its carrying something else seems an innovative work around.

Ace Rimmer
August 7, 2014 10:06 am

T.O.C good link to Jane’s on the Wildcat, some very interesting information supplied in the brochure, things that jumped out for me are:

– the cost of producing the airframe has been virtually halved.
– they’re considering a dipping sonar (I’m sure this will mean less fuel carried as it needs a large hole where the lower fuselage tanks sit)

re: one of your previous comments, I feel AW are ideally qualified to produce a contra-rotating aircraft using the semi-rigid head and conformal gearbox of the Lynx; although they may have to utilize the active vibration damping technology off the Merlin to make it work efficiently.

Rocket Banana
August 7, 2014 10:12 am

Perhaps the chaps that do these weapons integration should read up on Object Oriented Programming and in particular polymorphism through a standard interface.

Maybe then the defence fraternity can start to take advantage of the things we’ve been using for decades.

This SDB interface sounds like it might just be starting to happen :-)