Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Testing times: UK's Sea Viper missile system bares its fangs

At just past midday on 17 June 2010, the guided weapons test barge Longbow was in position on the Direction Générale de l'Armement Essais de Missiles (DGA EM) range area a few miles off the Île du Levant (a small island lying off the French Riviera).

Inside, range personnel and test engineers from European missile house MBDA prepared for a critical test-firing of the UK Royal Navy's (RN's) new Sea Viper anti-air guided weapon system.

At 1255 h local time a Mirach 100/5 target vehicle launched from the Île du Levant. Back on Longbow, the back-to-back antenna of Sea Viper's Sampson multifunction radar (MFR) was rotating at 30 rpm atop a 34 m mast, its electronically scanned beams interweaving horizon search and volume search functions near instantaneously.

Twelve minutes later, the target presented and Sampson made an initial detection on a low-level target flying at high subsonic speed on a crossing trajectory. Plot confirmation and track initiation followed, with the MFR reporting the track to the Sea Viper system for threat evaluation.

Complex software-based logic, running on a high-speed processing platform, immediately prioritised the track and put the MFR into a dedicated tracking mode that increased radar dwell time on the target. The track was declared a threat, prompting weapon assignment and the relay of a launch message to Sampson.

Two Aster 30 missiles – housed inside an eight-cell SYLVER A50 vertical launcher module on Longbow 's deck – received initialisation messages, the system software providing each munition with positional information on the target and the predicted missile trajectory to intercept. The stressing nature of the threat demanded a salvo firing to maximise the probability of kill.

"Three, two, one, zero time," reported Longbow's trials manager to the range trials director. "Permit firing."

A hatch on the vertical launch silo flipped open and two seconds later an eruption of bright orange flame was followed by a trail of dirty white smoke as the first Aster 30 missile arced upwards and away from Longbow and accelerated towards its target.

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