The PAAMS, the famous tri-national missile program a variant of which is the Sea Viper used on the Royal Navy's Type 45, is still progressing and evolving to this day. Lately, three news in particular have caught my eye:
Anti-Ballistic SAMPSON - BAE Systems has started testing activity on an ABM variant of the SAMPSON (Type 1054 for the RN) radar used by Sea Viper. The activity is carried out at the Cowes center, on the island of Wight, and is the follow-on to a previous Design Definition Phase concluded in March last year, and to a first series of tests carried out with the Advanced Radar Technology Test Bed.
The study is part of a series of activities carried out under direction of the Missile Defence Centre (MDC), an alliance between MOD and industry that started in 2003. Scope of this body is to research, develop and monitor the evolution of threats and solutions in the Ballistic Missile field. For the moment, the MOD does not plan to acquire a missile-shield or an anti-ballistic capability for the Type 45, but the door is being kept open, and studies are being done to enable a smooth change of policy anytime in the future.
The current tests at Cowes will eventually conclude with trials of detection and tracking of satellites in high orbit.
The SAMPSON is only installed on the six Type 45 destroyers, which also mount the Thales S-1850M long-range radar (Type 1046 for the Navy). The S-1850M is a variant of the SMART-L radar from Thales Nederland, also used on the french and italian Horizons, on the German F124 air defence frigates and on the De Zeven Provinciën frigates of the Netherlands navy. The SMART-L itself has anti-ballistic tracking capability, with tests ongoing ever since 2006. For the SMART-L series of radars, General Dynamics last year released a self-funded X-band radar datalink that enables the existing radar to guide an american SM-3 anti-ballistic missile, making 10 warships in Europe (three German F124 frigates, three Danish patrol vessels and four Dutch ADCF frigates) practically "ABM-ready".
So far none has funded purchase of the SM-3 missile, but the possibility exists.
The Type 45 and Horizon destroyers of UK, France and Italy could also get an ABM role, they would need to be touched up more consistently: the Sylver A50 cells are too short for SM-3, and the missile is currently not integrated into Sylver launchers, so even adoption of the A70 cells would not solve the problem.
The Type 45 could however in any moment embark 16 additional missile cells, of the MK41 type, and in "Strike Lenght" (7 meters deep, in other words) in order to fit SM-3 and Tomahawk missiles.
For now, the dutch will only upgrade the radars. In the meanwhile, 4 US Arleigh Burke destroyers with ABM capability and SM-3 missiles are being forward-based in Europe, in the port of Rota, Spain, to provide initial missile defence.
By 2015, semi-mobile launcher towers and radars derived from the naval system ("Aegis Ashore") are planned to be deployed on land in Romania, and by 2018 a second site should go online in Poland.
SAMP-T demonstrates capability - The SAMP-T is the land variant of PAAMS. It is an air defence missile system employing the Arabel radar and the Aster 30 missile (no Aster 15 is employed on land). It is being acquired by Italy and France, and is competing for exports in several countries, including Turkey.
On 1st December 2011, a SAMP-T trial saw the successful interception by an Aster 30 missile of a Black Sparrow target. The Black Sparrow is an israeli target missile built to simulate SCUD-like short range ballistic threats. The target was hit at an altitude of around 10 km, as it simulated the descent phase of a ballistic missile.
The Blue Sparrow is suitable to represent more performant ballistic threats, and Israel is developing the Silver Sparrow, which will simulate missiles in the 1500 to 3000 km range-class, such as Iranian Shihab 3 weapons. Israel is using the Sparrow targets to test and validate the Harrow anti-ballistic system.
The missile is the same, so the test should be very much valid and reassuring for the naval PAAMS as well. It also confirms that the Aster missile has a huge growth margin, and gives new credibility to MBDA's offer to develop an "Aster Block 2" or even an Aster 45 anti-ballistic missile.
This ambition, however, is largely a french one. The UK for the moment is not really hot on ballistic defence, Italy has other priorities and very little money, and France itself has other destinations for its own defence budget. The rest of Europe went AEGIS/MK41 (Germany, Spain, Dutch) and their eventual choice is very straightforward with the SM-3.
Personally, i find the MBDA anti-ballistic missile a fascinating idea, but one with very little hopes to see the light, but as always, time will tell.
Supersonic, Sea-Skimming trial ahead - In the next future, PAAMS will face a very important test. France has confirmed that they will soon trial the Aster 30 missile against a supersonic, sea-skimming target representing a russian ship-killer missile (such as SS-N22 Sunburn or the Yakhont acquired recently by Syria).
The target will be an american-built GQM-163 Coyote, an incredibly effective (but horrendously expensive) target drone developed by the US Navy and used for Aegis missile trials since 2006.
The single Coyote was ordered by France in 2007, at a cost of 9.2 million dollars (!). Ever since, nothing had been heard about it, and i was fearing that we would continue to be feed the assuration that PAAMS can shoot down "multiple supersonic sea-skimming missiles approaching simultaneously by different directions" without the system ever having been tested against anything more challenging than a subsonic Exocet.
France is reassuring everyone that this is not the case and we can only be glad of it. Shooting down the Coyote as it flies at mach 2.5 just a few meters above the waves will be a good test for the PAAMS, and will do much to improve confidence in the system, all the way to the Type 45's Sea Viper.
Let's hope it all goes according to plan.