The Leonardo AW159 helicopter — dubbed the Wildcat by the Royal Navy — has helped HMS Dragon and 815 Naval Air Squadron net eight drug busts since last September, and U.K. authorities say the stashes of heroin, hashish, and crystal methamphetamine recovered mark a record for the Royal Navy.
On March 17, HMS Dragon, a Portsmouth-based Type 45 destroyer seized nearly 5,600 pounds of hashish from a dhow fishing vessel while the warship was on her way home through the Arabian Sea after a six month deployment in the Middle East. Two days earlier, the Dragon achieved a Royal Navy record of seven drug busts netting the highest weight of narcotics seized by a Royal Navy ship in the Middle East.
Since its deployment last September with Combined Task Force-150 (CTF-150), the warship has intercepted more than 1,000 pounds of heroin, 39,000 pounds of hashish, and nearly 20 pounds of crystal meth — drugs having a value of more than $164 million, according to the Royal Navy. The multi-national CTF-150 seeks to disrupt terrorist groups’ freedom of movement and income-generating activities, such as the drug trade.
The Wildcat helicopter, equipped with the SELEX Galileo Seaspray 7000E active electronically-scanned array radar and the L-3 Corporation’s Wescam MX-15Di electro-optical/infrared nose turret, has been key in helping the ship locate the drug stashes.
The helicopter from 815 Naval Air Squadron has typically scouted for and identified suspicious vessels that may be involved in the drug trade. Royal Marines from the Dragon have then boarded the vessels to find any hidden drug caches.
Royal Navy Lt. Scott Sunderland, a Wildcat pilot, noted in a statement after a heroin seizure last month that the confiscation “once again highlighted the fantastic capability of the Wildcat aircraft and its ability to find, fix and identify suspected dhows at vast ranges.”
“We spotted a contact at range using our radar and, on closing, the flight observer was able to use the electro-optical device on the aircraft to provide high-quality images of the suspect dhow,” Sunderland said.
The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense accepted the last of its 62 AW159s from Leonardo in 2017.