System enables frigates to fire at multiple supersonic targets

2 min read

The Royal Navy’s latest defence system will enable British frigates to fire homing missiles at multiple targets travelling at supersonic speeds using a new launcher.

The £483m Sea Ceptor, announced by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on 30 January, will be the first UK system to eject missiles from the launcher using a piston before they ignite — known as a ’soft’ or ’cold’ vertical launch.

As well as providing the navy’s Type 23 frigates with a similar homing missile capability to the larger Type 45 destroyers — the UK-designed-and-built system could create strong export opportunities, according to its developer MBDA.

‘We think this is quite unique in terms of its combination of capability, performance and affordability,’ Nick Neale, MBDA’s project director for Sea Ceptor, told The Engineer. ‘We are very excited by the opportunities this gives for the export market, which is a real priority.’

The MoD has awarded MBDA the contract to build a demonstration version of the technology, which the navy intends to use on the planned fleet of Type 26 Global Combat Ships, but could also be adapted for use on land and in the air.

Once complete, Sea Ceptor will be able to fire more than two missiles simultaneously at up to Mach 3, enabling ships to protect an area of around 500 square miles.

’Missiles are launched at high speed using a piston mechanism and then turned onto the correct trajectory before their propulsion system ignites,’ said Neale.

‘That’s got lots of benefits, one of which is that it’s very efficient because instead of turning with the motor burning you get the missile into exactly the right attitude before the motor fires up.

‘The other benefit is that the launcher is very straightforward because you don’t have to manage all the very hot gases that are normally ejected in a conventional launcher.

’The missiles are able to seek out and lock onto their targets, which could include enemy projectiles also travelling at supersonic speeds, using an active radar seeker system and a data link to the ship’s systems.

‘Previous systems [use] a guidance technique where the missile is kept directly in the line of sight to the target, whereas this is an active homing missile, which gives you far more flexibility in how you control it,’ said Neale.

‘You fire it off, upload the data to give it the latest information on where the target is and it goes and finds it itself. The system architecture is equivalent to the Sea Viper architecture on the Type 45.’

The technology has been developed and trialled over the last few years and will now be demonstrated on a Type 23 vessel. Providing the demonstration phase is successful, MBDA hopes to receive a production contract in the next two years.

Sea Ceptor will use MBDA’s Common Anti-Air Modular Missiles, which are scheduled to enter service on the Type 23s in 2016 and are designed for use in land, sea and air vehicles. The launcher technology is also designed to be used across different platforms.

‘The launcher design is very simple, which means it can be accommodated onto different ships easily,’ said Neale.

‘The integration of the system into the rest of the ship with the radar and combat system is designed to be flexible as well, and that is something that is really made possible by the overall architecture of the system, hardware and software.

‘It’s designed from the outset to be adaptable and flexible to enable it to work with a range of radars and combat systems to make exportability and integration onto other platforms straightforward.’

The demonstration contract is expected to sustain around 500 jobs in MBDA and its supply chain at locations across the UK.