The first firing is a major milestone for the Anglo-French Sea Venom anti-ship missile.
The missile will replace existing and legacy systems such as Sea Skua and the AS15TT anti-ship missiles in British and French service.
The trial of the 100 kg-class missile was conducted from a Dauphin test bed helicopter owned by the DGA (Direction Générale de l’Armement – the French defence procurement agency).
The interestingly named Frank Bastart, head of the Sea Venom/ANL programme at MBDA, said:
“The missile trial was a complete success, and is a proud moment for the company and all those involved in the project. When it enters service Sea Venom/ANL will provide a major increase in capability to the French and UK armed forces.”
Jointly ordered in 2014, the Sea Venom/ANL project has been developed 50/50 between the UK and France.
Paul Goodwin, deputy head of the Sea Venom project, added:
“Although a first firing this was in no way a cautious one. The system was pushed to the very edge of its range capability – a bold step showing our confidence in the design maturity and making success all the more sweet. The next step is to exercise the systems’ operator-in-the-loop capabilities.”
In UK service the missile is planned to be used from the AW159 Wildcat helicopter, while France will operate the missile from its new Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger.
With Sea Skua now retired, Royal Navy helicopters will have no anti-ship missiles until the Sea Venom and Martlet missiles enter service in 2020.
Wildcat will receive the heavy anti-ship missile Sea Venom and the smaller Martlet to be used against small boats.
Martlet, formerly FASGW (Light), was due to enter service around 2015 on the Fleet Air Arm’s new Lynx Wildcat maritime helicopters, it still hasn’t. However the Ministry of Defence has placed an initial order for 1,000 missiles.
Sea Venom, formerly FASGW (Heavy), is a bigger anti-ship missile designed for larger targets.
In 2014, the Royal Navy awarded Thales Group a £48 million contract to deliver Martlet and later that year a contract was awarded to MBDA for the Sea Venom missile for use against vessels and land targets, replacing the Sea Skua.
Both missiles are to be integrated by Leonardo (then AugustaWestland) in a single £90m programme by 2018, with initial operating capability for both planned for October 2020.
Wildcat is, according to the manufacturer, able to operate up to 20 Martlet missiles or 4 Sea Venom missiles to disable or destroy vessels up to 1000 tonnes.
As for Merlin, the helicopter has two hardpoints to carry four Sting Ray torpedoes or depth charges. Some customers of the aircraft have chosen to deploy anti-ship missiles. Indeed in 2011, the Royal Navy was considering equipping their Merlin fleet with an anti-surface missile. This was reportedly dropped due to cost.