AgustaWestland has been changing the shape of its U.K. operations, as it takes on more commercial helicopter work.

But the success of the company’s Yeovil facility still depends on strong support from the U.K. Defense Ministry and sales of the AW101 heavy helicopter and the newer AW159 Wildcat.

The maritime Lynx helicopter is considered to be one of the company’s greatest successes, and the type remains in limited production now after a follow-up order for six aircraft from the Algerian navy in 2012.

Around 260 naval Lynx variants have been produced since the 1970s, along with 140 battlefield Lynx for the British Army. Of the naval Lynx, around 150 remain in service with 14 countries. 

But AgustaWestland is hopeful that some of those nations might look to the Wildcat as a replacement.

Earlier this year, the company passed the halfway mark in the delivery of Wildcats for its U.K. customers, with 33 delivered so far out of 62 ordered, including 21 to the Army Air Corps and 12 to the Fleet Air Arm.

Navy aircraft are built as Surface Combatant Maritime Rotorcraft (SCMR), while the army aircraft are built as Battlefield Reconaissance Helicopters (BRH), but they are produced on the same line with only limited differences between the two types.

“This is the most important year for the U.K. Wildcat program,” says Matt Boucher, program manager for the Wildcat. “Both of the U.K. customers are planning to declare interim operating capability during the next 12 months.”

British Army aircraft, known as Wildcat AH1s, will be used as intelligence-gathering platforms or even as airborne command posts, using the MX-15 electro-optical turret on the nose. Army crews who are flying the Wildcat claim it can identify targets at greater ranges than the Boeing AH-64D Apache, and the aircraft can then export that information to other platforms. Army models will also have a limited utility role, and be armed with a door gun. The aircraft will replace the Lynx AH7 and the AH9As, upgraded for use in Afghanistan.

The Royal Navy plans to use its version, designated Wildcat HMA2, to replace the Lynx Mk.8 as the primary helicopter for the Type 45 anti-air destroyers and Type 23 frigates. The later than planned development of the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon Heavy means the Wildcat will not be equipped with an anti-ship missile until around 2019-20, forcing the service to retain the Lynx Mk.8 with its Sea Skua missile until the end of March 2017.

So far the Wildcat hasn’t had the success of its predecessor, but has already picked up its first export order from the South Korean navy, for eight aircraft, and the company is hopeful of a potential follow-on order which could be tendered toward the end of this year.

South Korea’s Wildcat Mk.210s will be the most advanced version of the Wildcat yet developed, fitted with a dipping sonar and associated sonics system, as well as a defensive aids suite and electronic countermeasures system developed by Selex ES.

The South Korean version will be equipped to carry a lightweight torpedo and the Rafael Spike NLOS air-to-surface missile. The first pair is on the production line in Yeovil and should make their first flights in October. Firing trials of the Spike NLOS are also due to take place in the U.K. in 2015, and the first batch of four aircraft are due to be delivered to South Korea by the end of 2015. The last batch of four is expected in 2016.

The South Korean aircraft will be the first Wildcats to be fitted with a digital automatic flight control system (Dafcs). The system hardware, developed by Selex with software by AgustaWestland, will shortly be installed on the second prototype Wildcat, TI02 that has been leased back from the U.K. Defense Ministry for an 18-month flight trials program with the system. British aircraft feature an analog AFCS obtained from retired U.K. army and navy Lynxes through a donor program, developed to help reduce program costs. AgustaWestland is hopeful that the U.K. may eventually find the money to retrofit a Dafcs into the U.K. fleet.

The current Wildcat production run, including the eight South Korean aircraft, ends in March 2016. A push to sell the Wildcat to Denmark failed at the end of 2012 when that country chose the Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawk. The company is hoping for further Wildcat sales, pushing the aircraft in Malaysia, the Philippines and to other existing Lynx customers. However, several current Lynx operators have expressed an interest in reengining their Lynxes. AgustaWestland is offering a retrofit option, like it did with the Lynx AH9 fleet, to fit the LHTEC T800 engine to replace the Rolls-Royce Gem. In early July, Brazil confirmed it would also upgrade eight aircraft.

The U.K. plans for an additional eight aircraft configured in a light assault helicopter configuration for British Special Forces operations, which have been affected by funding issues. Officials are now looking to fit the necessary equipment to Army Wildcats as and when needed.