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Eyes of the Fleet: A History of Rotary-Wing Airborne Early Warning/Airborne Surveillance and Control in the Royal Navy 1982-2022

14 Nov 23

179 pages

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Dr James Bosbotinis

The subject of this book immediately appealed to this reviewer, and being familiar with the author’s work for various defence publications, expectations were high. The author, Richard Scott, will be known to members of the NR for his contributions to numerous publications, and his role at Janes. In Eyes of the Fleet, published in 2022 to mark the 40thanniversary of Project LAST, the hurried conversion of two Sea Kings to provide an airborne early warning (AEW) capability in the South Atlantic, Scott sets out to provide an account of the development of a rotary-wing airborne early warning (AEW) capability for the Royal Navy, and how that capability has evolved over the past 40 years.

Across 20 chapters, Eyes of the Fleet discusses the development of the Royal Navy’s AEW capability, from its origins in the Second World War, through its provision by fixed-wing aircraft from the 1940s until 1978, and subsequent redevelopment as a helicopter-borne system. This includes the evolution of and shift from an airborne early warning to airborne surveillance and control (ASaC) capability, the contribution of the Sea King AEW Mk 2, and ASaC Mk 7 to operations including in the Gulf, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Libya, and the transition to the Merlin-based Crowsnest system. In the latter context, the development of a Future Organic AEW capability, which then became the Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control, and finally Crowsnest, to support Carrier Strike centred on the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, is also discussed. The author also ably discusses the requirements of and challenges involved in generating an initial Crowsnest capability for the CSG21 deployment.

Eyes of the Fleet provides much more than a history of the evolution of helicopter-based AEW in the Royal Navy; it also provides a concise history of the development of the Merlin. It also looks to the future and the potential options for a future AEW capability within the wider Future Maritime Aviation Force vision. Alongside the text, which is well-written and highly engaging (there are a few minor typos), there is an impressive selection of photos. Eyes of the Fleet more than exceeded this reviewer’s expectations: the book provides a fascinating, highly detailed yet engaging account of the history of AEW/ASaC in the Royal Navy. It will certainly appeal to those with an interest in naval aviation, but also those with wider interests. Eyes of the Fleet is highly recommended.