First Qualification Firing Trial The UK and France have completed the first qualification firing trial of the MBDA external link Sea Venom/Anti?Navire L├ęger Anti-Ship Missile, the Defence Equipment and Support agency. The missile, which will equip the Royal Navy’s AgustaWestland AW159 Lynx Wildcat HMA2 and future French Navy Airbus H160M helicopters, was test launched from a French DGA procurement agency-owned Airbus AS365 Dauphin helicopter off the south of France. According to DES, the test at the DGA Essais de Missiles test site near Ile du Levant saw the missile reach its cruise phase while skimming low to the sea. The helicopter crew then used images from the infrared seeker to aim the missile manually, and it went on to accurately hit its target. Intended to replace the Sea Skua under the Royal Navy’s Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy) requirement, the Sea Venom/ANL is designed to safely engage hostile vessels amongst civilian ones and could be used on a range of targets from small, fast-moving craft through to larger ships.

The program’s goal is a 110 kg missile with a 30 kg warhead, one capable of sinking or disabling Fast Attack Craft (FAC) in the 50t – 500t ton range, and damaging corvettes or frigates. The choice of guidance modes should also allow it to be used for precision attack more generally. Boost and sustain rocket motors are both compliant with naval safety requirements, and steps have been taken to ease integration by minimizing changes to shipborne handling equipment, magazines, etc. that currently handle the Sea Skua and AS.15TT missiles.

A Sea Venom/ANL missile installed on a AgustaWestland Wildcat helicopter

The Sea Venom/ANL (Anti-Navire Leger - also known as Britain’s FASGW-H program) missile will rely on inertial navigation plus Imaging Infrared (IIR) guidance, creating a fire-and-forget weapon that won’t alert its targets by broadcasting a radar signal. A radar altimeter looks down, to keep the missile skimming just above the waves and make it harder for defensive radars to pick up. ANL can be fired in either Lock-on Before Launch or Lock-on After Launch modes, and a bi-directional datalink allows updates and retargeting in flight.

As a comparative illustration, the semi-active radar homing AS.15 and Sea Skua aren’t fire and forget, while the Exocet’s active radar guidance will trigger a ship’s ESM defensive electronics.

Range isn’t given, but given its size, the ANL’s range is very likely to be shorter than the Exocet’s 70 km/ 38 nm. It’s said to be longer than the Sea Skua’s 25 km/ 13.5 nm, which represents the rough minimum in order to keep the launching helicopter beyond the reach of short range air defences expected on FAC, corvette, and light frigate opponents.

Development will be led by European missile giant MBDA, who has branches on both sides of the English Channel and is owned by BAE, EADS, and Finmeccanica. They’re also the manufacturer of larger helicopter-launched anti-ship missiles like the AM39 Exocet and Marte Mk2, and shorter-range missiles like the FASGW-L/ LMM and laser-guided 127mm Zuni rockets.

Britain had been planning to replace its Sea Skua missiles by 2012 – 2014, but that won’t be possible. At best, there will be testing in late 2017 – early 2018. France’s timeline was more leisurely, aiming only to equip its NH90-NFH helicopters by 2020. Those timelines will force Britain to either extend the service life of its Lynx Mk8 helicopters and Sea Skua missiles, or do without a helicopter anti-ship capability until the new Sea Venom missile is ready for use from its new AW159 Wildcats.

Exports aren’t a major focus yet, but Sea Venom will be the standard strike missile option aboard future AW159 maritime helicopters, and will compete for every NH90-NFH naval helicopter customer. Customers for its predecessor missiles offer another opportunity. Saudi Arabia was the only AS.15TT export customer, but Sea Skua has been exported for helicopter and shipborne use to Brazil, Germany, India, Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Korea, and Turkey.

Sea Venom’s competitors include MBDA’s own Marte Mk2/S, which will compete for NH90 orders, and Kongsberg’s popular Penguin missile. China’s TL-6 also sits in this category, but isn’t likely to compete because its integrated helicopters are unlikely to overlap.

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