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RN assesses options for next surface-to-surface weapon

11th August 2021 - 17:25 GMT | by Harry Lye in London

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Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose firing a Harpoon missile. (Photo: MoD/ Crown Copyright.)

The UK RN is scoping out options for its next surface-to-surface guided weapons system but it has yet to move forward with plans for an interim Harpoon anti-ship missile replacement.

In 2019, the UK MoD issued a Prior Information Notice, calling on industry to provide information on potential surface-to-surface guided weapon systems that could replace the Harpoon anti-ship missile (ASM) and bridge the gap to the deployment of the Future Cruise/Anti-ship Weapon (FC/ASW) in 2028.

Asked by Shephard about the status of the Interim Surface-to-Surface Guided Weapon (I-SSGW) project, an MoD spokesperson said: 'We continue to scope options for the Royal Navy's next surface-to-surface guided weapon system, alongside wider lethality requirements, to allow us [to] deliver on the commitments outlined in the Integrated Review.

'No decisions have yet been made.'

Last year, responding to a parliamentary question, Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin said the I-SSGW project could expect bids by mid-2021.

Despite this, as the December 2023 out of service date for Harpoon looms large, the MoD has yet to publish an invitation to negotiate (ITN) or an invitation to tender (ITT) for the I-SSGW project.

Plans to replace Harpoon were reconfirmed in March this year when the MoD released the Defence Command Paper outlining plans for the UK armed forces.

If acquired, the RN would probably field a potential interim solution in 2023.

Shephard understands that any ITN or ITT for the RN's next surface guided weapon system would not be released until the current scoping work is complete.

The MoD would only place a contract after identifying a winning tender and approving a full business case.

It remains possible that the MoD could choose not to progress plans for an interim Harpoon replacement, instead extending Harpoon's in-service life until its obsolescence and the introduction of FC/ASW.

The RN nominally fits the Harpoon ASM onto the UK's Type 45 Daring-class destroyers and Type 23 Duke-class frigates. Images taken during the UK's Carrier Strike Group 2021 deployment show Harpoon installed on the Type 23 frigate HMS Kent.

Anti-surface capabilities of the RN also include the Wildcat helicopter-carried Martlet missile. In 2022, the Sea Venom missile will also enter RN service. Both Martlet and Sea Venom are variants of the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon.

The Sea Venom missile (pictured being test-fired) enters service with the RN in 2022. (Photo: MBDA)

In July, the UK MoD has confirmed that the RN's future Type 26 City-class frigates would be fitted with the in-development FC/ASW from 2028, and the department is committed to developing the missile.

FC/ASW has its roots in the Perseus concept, developed by MBDA and shown at the Paris Air Show in 2011. Shephard Defence Insight notes that Perseus is 5m long, weighing less than 800kg in flight configuration. The missile is billed as the long-term replacement for the UK's Harpoon and France's Exocet.

The timeline for FC/ASW to enter service on Type 26 combined with the procurement of an I-SSGW would likely see the RN operating two modern anti-ship missile systems simultaneously.

The MoD has already spent £95 million ($131.25 million) on the development of FC/ASW. If the RN chose not to procure an interim Harpoon replacement, money saved could be spent elsewhere on other navy priorities.

The procurement of an interim solution nonetheless would still bolster the RN's anti-surface capabilities and provide it with a far more modern missile capability than Harpoon currently provides.

In 2020, Kongsberg, Saab and MBDA all confirmed to Shephard that they had replied to the MoD's Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) released in August 2019.

At the time, the PQQ stipulated I-SSGW must have a land attack capability and be canister-launched to fit on Type 23 frigates.

At the time, A Kongsberg spokesperson said that it had offered the Naval Strike Missile (NSM); Saab offered its RBS15. MBDA responded but did not reveal what missile it was offering.

Earlier this year, Israel Aerospace Industries and Thales threw a bid into the ring, offering the Sea Serpent missile as a military-off-the-shelf solution.

Despite the current state of I-SSGW work and wider surface to surface weapon scoping, Shephard understands that the MoD is confident it will have a sufficient maritime anti-surface warfare capability to meet the needs of UK defence beyond December 2023.

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