Centurion launcher could improve British warship capabilities

An innovative trainable launching system could help address an age-old naval problem.

Sometimes the best ideas come to you when you’re least expecting them. Richard Lord, a former commodore for the Royal Navy, has first-hand experience of how true this can be. Last year, a trip to the Imperial War Museum with his grandson resulted in a sketch of a new type of launcher that, if accepted by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), could dramatically improve Britain’s warship capabilities.

Fifteen months of hard work and around £1.5m later, Lord’s launcher has been built and successfully tested on Salisbury Plain. Named ’Centurion’, the adaptable launcher can fire 12-barrel, 130mm rounds of naval decoys without requiring the ship to manoeuvre into position. Currently, many static launchers are dependent on ship movement and the existing trainable (or moveable) launchers are susceptible to forces that push against them during missile fire, which can cause the balance to be off centre, leading to inaccuracy.

’The problem has been bugging me for some time,’ said Lord, who now works for defence technology group Chemring Countermeasures. ’We were frustrated by the fact that we were putting a lot of effort into improving our rounds but, to be frank, the sales weren’t occurring. Using a trainable launcher could be one solution but, when we looked at available designs, they were either heavy or ugly and I could never see them on a Royal Naval ship.’

Surrounded by decades of engineering at the Imperial War Museum, Lord believed that there must be a way to overcome the weight problem. What came to his mind was the Royal Navy’s 4.5in Mark 8 gun, which has a rotating carousel with its ammunition stored vertically. ‘I thought there’s something in this,’ said Lord. ‘Why do we have to lay it out at 45 degrees? Why don’t we store it vertically and, if it’s on a carousel, then it can actually point in the right direction. I think at that point my grandson wanted to move on to something else so I sketched the idea down.’

Storing the barrels vertically appears to be a simple idea, but it takes some ingenuity, a fair amount of experience and the confidence in the concept to make it a reality. What was a sketch on the back of a napkin could now become an economic asset for the UK. As for going back to the Imperial War Museum for more ideas — ‘I’m not sure I will be,’ joked Lord. ‘I don’t think [the company] can afford any more.’