The Sea Ceptor missile system has officially entered service, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced.

Sea Ceptor provides a powerful shield against airborne threats, including hostile combat jets, helicopters and other missiles, and has been developed and manufactured through Ministry of Defence contracts worth around £850m.

It will be carried by the Royal Navy’s Type 23 frigates, and has been successfully demonstrated through a trials and test firing campaign that started last year. Most recently, Plymouth-based HMS Montrose became the third ship to test fire the system.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“Sea Ceptor will protect our nation against the intensifying threats we face today and in the future, giving our ships a powerful shield against everything from supersonic missiles to enemy fighter jets.

 Fitting our warships with this ground-breaking technology not only protects our Navy but shows we are world leaders at sea. HMS Argyll will be the first ship to deploy with this cutting-edge system when she heads to support peace and security in the Asia Pacific region later this year.”

The announcement, set to be made at the RUSI Sea Power Conference in London, follows detailed analysis of data gathered during the first of class firing trials by HMS Argyll, which took place last year. HMS Westminster and HMS Montrose, the second and third ships to be fitted with Sea Ceptor, have since also carried out successful firings.

Sea Ceptor has been designed and manufactured by MBDA and is directly supporting 600 jobs in Bristol, Stevenage and Bolton as part of the Team Complex Weapons partnering agreement between MOD and MBDA.

The first firings of Sea Ceptor were conducted from HMS Argyll at the Hebrides range off the coast of Scotland and saw the system tested against a range of complex scenarios – including engaging multiple targets at once.

Sea Ceptor is a major improvement on the existing Seawolf missile system which is being replaced. It offers improved performance against current and projected future threats, the ability to engage multiple targets, and allows the frigates to protect escorted vessels. The system is to be fitted to the Royal Navy’s new Type 26 frigates.

Richard Smart, Director Weapons for the MOD’s procurement organisation Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), said:

“Sea Ceptor’s entry into service with the Royal Navy is a significant milestone, a massive achievement for everyone involved and a proud moment for the team. 

It’s really exciting to be delivering a new capability that will form part of the protection for the new aircraft carriers and will help to keep our service personnel and our country safe.”

Recently, HMS Montrose took part in the third test firing of the system and successfully intercepted a fast-moving drone target. Within seconds of the missile bursting from the ship’s silo, the simulated threat was destroyed.

Commander Conor O’Neill, the Commanding Officer of HMS Montrose, said:

“The test firing we carried out represents the successful culmination of a great deal of hard work by many people from Babcock, the Short Range Air Defence team, DE&S, MBDA and the Royal Navy.

I am extremely proud of my ship’s company for their professional attitude which enabled the test firing to go so smoothly. This missile system represents a vastly-improved capability for the Royal Navy, and puts us ahead of the game in being able to defend ourselves and our new aircraft carriers from threat.”

49 COMMENTS

  1. The Complex Weapons Program seems to me to be doing rather well.

    This is long term, joined up, cross service, fully funded strategic planning to be applauded.

    Now, if only we could get the same on ship and submarine building!

    • Could the QE Class carrier be fitted with this system, or would it require considerable modifications? What about a mobile assembly that could be deployed on deck, but stored within the hanger when not required?

      • Land Ceptor is already in the late stages of development, but I can’t ever see it being deployed on the QE in that way.

        That’s what escorts are for after all.

        • Surely the land variant could perform a similar task to the seagoing design with some hardware mods? I would be happier for the carriers to have the option to cover every possible scenario where the vessels could be exposed. The most vulnerable possibility is when the carrier is devoid of fast jets, and about to enter home port or on post refit sea trials. No doubt such a scenario has been covered, yet an independent Ceptor system could achieve 100% protection in such periods of exposure?

          • Firing sea ceptor from the carrier would delay flight operations. It would also be expensive to retrofit the carriers. Best focus limited resources on fully equipped escorts.

          • (Chris H) I think others have observed that firing missiles off a carrier leaves a lot mess on deck and a FodPlod takes a long time. As I also understand these are designed to fire vertically and then track off to target so apart from the top of an island that leaves the flight deck.

            So I think this is best left to dedicated Frigates and their crews. Its what they do. Putting them on the carrier itself just means more weapon logistics, extra training and certification to handle and more duties for a smaller crew

        • In Hansard the was a comment about Sea/Land Ceptor being box mounted on the carrier as required. Also this concept was known of as she was being built. As you know her radars are compatible with Sea Ceptor.

          Rather than loose the carrier I can imagine in a real conflict extra defence would be added. In the Falklands war loads of extras were added to ships going into harms way. A Land Ceptor unit could be added without a fuss.

      • Sea captor can be fitted to almost anything as it’s cold gas ejected, could be very easily fitted to QE and the radar is already their for targeting. There has been various plans to fit it to QE, would be great to see it fitted to T45 as well to replace aster 15 then convert aster 15 across to increase aster 30 supply.

        Sea ceptor along with SPEAR 3 Brimestone and Meteor are all amazing systems that can see the UK move back into the space for missile production.

        The only problem with sea ceptor is it’s terrible name land ceptor sounds even worse.

        This is the country that came up with Mustang, you would have thought we could have done better.

        • I am with all these suggestions 100% Martin.

          It’s nuts to be the only carrier in the world without missile point defence and sea ceptor with its cold launch is ideal. ‘We Have Escorts’ is not an excuse, so does every other navy and they still have them. It’s another budget compromise which one day will haunt us.

        • Yes Sea Ceptor can be quad packed into the T45 launcher. You could have 40 Aster 30s and 32 Sea Ceptors. Although it is hard to see the RN getting the cash for that. It would give the T45 a great capability. The T45 also has room for at least 12 strike length launchers – so you could fit even more missiles.

  2. Good news upgrade for T23s, well done to all involved. For all the faults found in RN, MoD or UK Gvt planning, it’s easy to forget how well we do some things compared to others (e.g. see concept and design flaws in German F125 class). That equipment from T23s will be transferred directly to T26s tells us how relevant these frigates still are

      • I have read the original comment and your reply to it a number of times yet I just can’t get the point you are making, in what way does the fitting of state of the art air defence missiles to type 26 (even if transferred from another vessel) reflect upon the capability of those ships. I must be missing something and it’s bugging me because I would have thought real life experience of the system for a few years would be an even greater advantage to fitting them untested.

    • Cross decking of kit was the original idea but that is when the T26 was suppose to come in a £500 million or less, now they are billion pound cruiser things have changed.

      The fleet is too small to bring in one and cross deck stuff like radar so now they plan to acquire new radars to replace the existing one, some kits like deck launchers and obviously type 2087 sonars will be cross decked but this already happens between various ships. I don’t think anything related to Sea Ceptor will be cross decked.

    • I don’t think so. This should be something to work on. I can understand the larger strike missiles requiring reload at port due to the length of them, but a launch tube with a below deck loading system should be designed for the smaller self defence types. Then we would not need as many cells, reducing cost and freeing up deck space for other kit.

      • (Chris H) T.S. – Underslung crates from a Chinook? I am pretty sure one of the specs. for this would have been RAS even if it is by aerial delivery. Otherwise the ship could never fight very far from port ..??

        • Munitions by VERTREP is the absolute least prefered option.
          The risk managment for moving items via helo is so huge so its only done in extremis.
          Underslung loads to troops ashore is the exception.

    • You could RAS VL seawolf…or rather the capability existed. I think the capability was removed in later years as it was deemed less than ideal for safety and practical reasons. Spending thousands of pounds to keep kit in date for test and use when it never ever got used meant that the cost saving measure of removing it won out ( thank god!) In reality I dont thing a live VL SW has ever been ras’d, just drill rounds to prove that it could be done (but very slowly and very carefully). I have done it once with one canister and we ticked it off hopefully never ever to be repeated.

      You could I suppose do it with Sea Ceptor using a similar rig but I doubt it will be done.
      The easiest and safest and quickest way to do missile reloads of any sort is by rafting up to an RFA and having them craned on.
      T22s down south lost a few exocets in heavy weather. One ship Broadsword I think had it ripped off the mount and Brilliant had the missile canister stoved in. We replaced the damaged canister and missile alongside Fort Austin using her crane to lower it into position. Same thing also happened on Brazen some years later. We patched the hole in the door and replaced it when back in home waters.
      If you can do that with Exocet a little VL missile would be pretty straight forward to crane into position.

  3. It’s great to see these finally enter service, after what seems to have been a reasonably rapid development, at least rapid compared to most of our complex weapons programs.

    Not so keen on the doctored image used in the article, it’s appeared in a few places. One of camms defining features is the soft launch with little to no efflux……not the Poseidon missile shown leaving the ship here.

  4. I would be replace the ASTER 15’s on the T45’s with quad packed Sea Ceptor. The slight reduction in all round capability (against the ’15’ variant) would more than be made up for in a ship that could field a mix of ASTER 30 and Sea Ceptor in numbers approaching 100!

    Also fully fund the surface attack capability of Sea Ceptor to allow it to defend the ships of a task group from fast attack boats etc.

    • I agree about swapping out some or all of the Aster 15 with Sea Ceptor but I’d love to see that done by installing some of those 3-cell LM ExLS modules in the T45 FFBNW space originally intended for Mk41 (12 tubes I believe). That would be a lot cheaper than putting in the Mk41s which means it’s got more than a snowball in hell’s chance of happening and it would free up the entire Sylver 50 silo for Aster 30 including possibly the BMD-capable version (will that fit in a Sylver 50 or does it need the 70?).

      With all active T45s likely to be mostly tied to CBG and maybe amphib escort duties in the future I hanker for Mk41 on them less and less now and think the best use of that FFBNW space would be to maximise their capabilities in their AAW role in the most cost-effective manner that we can.

      • Yes the reality is the 45s are air defence ships and we don’t have the numbers for them to play at being a GP vessel. Apart from adding to a task groups ASuW capability any improvement should be in it AAW capabilities. Cceptor would tick that box. It’s such a good home grown system we should lever it as much as possible.

    • They can quad pack in to mk41 but only tri pack in to A50

      Still pretty good compared to Aster 15 though and can give the T45 a significant capacity increase. Ideally we would see separate canisters installed like T26 freeing up the A50 VLS for aster 30NT and install the 16 Mk41 tubes for TLAM and ASROC and SM3 with LRASM in deck launchers replacing the harpoons, then the T45 would really live up to its potential.

  5. Old news regurgitated for political capital-making, but good news all the same. Team Complex Weapons indeed doing a great job. I have to pinch myself sometimes to believe this, but it is an excellent achievement. Why don’t we hear as much about the land version to replace Rapier? We’ve only heard about a Falklands deployment so far.

  6. Why don’t we gradually retire Type 23sthrough a Home Fleet bulking up the critical mass of the navy and releasing more modern ships for more blue water tasks?
    After all 23s seem to go on for a long time after being sold to other navies.

  7. I do hope we lever this on the type 31s, it would be bonkers not to and would make them credible vessels, especially if we fund the ASuW aspect of the missile.

    • 100% agree. And if MBDA do come through with a VLS booster for Spear3 that allows it to cold-launch from Sea Ceptor silos a T31 with a reasonably sized Sea Ceptor silo gains yet more ASuW capabilities plus what are essentially mini cruise missiles (SPEAR3) that could be used in support of land operations as well (for precision strikes against specific small targets, potentially moving targets if there is a team on the ground with a laser designator).

      Sea Ceptor is good when it’s in the air and its active terminal guidance is good for saturation attack and simplifying ship-based integration (no target illuminators) but I’m just as excited about the process of actually launching it, i.e. cold instead of hot launch, for the additional cost savings and ship-side simplifications that brings. I really would like to see MBDA and maybe others leverage that capability as much as possible and appropriate elsewhere e.g. my hopes for VLS SPEAR3.

      I also hope that CAMM-ER progresses and that any Sea Ceptor silos being put on T26 and hopefully T31 are sized such that they could take CAMM-ER if that variant ever becomes an option that the RN might want to take up.

  8. Gavin Williamson has done nothing but impress since landing his job after that bumbling fool Fallon, especially considering the intensely difficult job he’s had trying to balance military priorities and the legacy successive spineless governments trying to pawn it off

    • I agree that we’ve seen some good things so far but to some extent I can’t help thinking of all the stuff so far as being the mood music in the auditorium as we all take our seats. The curtain up and his grand (I hope) performance is going to be the Defence Modernisation Program report. That’s when we can see what tradeoffs and compromises have been made and how (if) it all fits together into a coherent whole.

  9. Good news that 3/13 Type 23 fleet have Sea Ceptor. Anyone know the refit schedule for the next to benefit?

      • Thx. I see the RN web site reports her status as currently in a ‘long period of maintenance’ receiving a number of ‘capability upgrades’.

    • 5 of 13 have been upgraded. Argyll, Westminster, Montrose, Northumberland and Kent. Kent is awaiting sea trials and test firing in a couple of months.

  10. The T23 that will be based in Bahrain soon ( you heard it here first last year!) will have SeaCeptor. if for no other reason than its a good marketing opertunity to push it to countries in the Gulf region and wider afield.

    • Other than the bias for US weapons (ESSM ) I don’t understand why everyone, USA included is not buying sea ceptor, big ship capability fitted onto anything the size of a dinghy, does not need hot gas exhaust or giant phased array for targeting and gives you almost area Defence capability from a missile that weighs just 99KG.

      Sea ceptor would give the USN litoral combat ship and there New frigate the kind of limited area Defence capability they want as well. It would make sense for them to buy it much the same as they should be buying Meteor, Brimestone and SPEAR but industrial interest in the worlds most protectionist Defence economy are to blame. They are worse than the French.

      • (Chris H) Martin – Given the US Politicians have been resisiting the US military’s liking for Brimstone (having seen it in real life battle scenarios in Iraq and Syria) for over 4 years it will be a very long time before they buy Sea Ceptor. And remember Brimstone is a very versatile weapon and can be used off a ship, land, fixed wing aircraft and helicopters against a wide range of targets.

        Pork Barrel politics is how it works in the USA not common sense and sourcing the best

      • Highly unlikely that Sea ceptor will ever find its way onto a US vessel.

        Nevertheless there is a strong chance that surplus US vessels sold to allies will get Sea ceptor as part of any upgrade program due to its less invasive plug and play nature.

      • The US tend to think their kit is the best even when it is not. They will buy US kit because there it too much polotical preasure against a non-US buy. After all they still think AEGIS is top dog…!

      • The current ESSM still needs a target illuminating radar.
        Having to track and illuminate a target using a tracker is a big disadvantage in today’s high speed missile stakes especially when shooting against ARMs
        Block 2 ESSM has Active /Semi Active homing so it can be seen as a SeaCeptor competitor although it wont be in service for a few years yet.
        SeaCeptor will be fighting against the NATO MOU that has been in place for many years regarding Sea Sparrow which has morphed into ESSM.
        SeaCeptors advantage is the cold launch ability which makes the launcher lighter and smaller because you don’t have to worry about hot exhaust gas ducting or management.

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