UK: Royal Navy Fires Last Sea Dart Missiles

Royal Navy Fires Last Sea Dart Missiles

For probably the last time in its 40-year history the Navy’s principal shield against air attack, Sea Dart missiles, have been fired by a Royal Navy warship. HMS Edinburgh launched seven of the Mach 2 missiles at target drones off the Outer Hebrides in a last hurrah ahead of a major military exercise off western Scotland.

A flash of fire bright enough to bathe the Atlantic orange-yellow for an instant shows the Royal Navy’s long-standing shield against air attack packs a punch right to the end.

HMS Edinburgh has carried out the last planned firing of the Sea Dart system in the build up to a major exercise off Scotland.

The destroyer successfully fired seven missiles off the Outer Hebrides ahead of Exercise Joint Warrior, which tests Britain’s military ability to respond to a crisis.

The firing was carried out to show the system could still be used, as Edinburgh will serve as the UK’s final Type 42 destroyer while the new Type 45 destroyers and their Sea Viper missiles enter service.

A booster rocket helped the missiles roar away from the ship, accelerating Sea Dart to twice the speed of sound in a matter of seconds. It can take out a target up to 80 miles away.

In this instance, its target was a Mirach pilotless drone – a 13ft missile which flies at speeds of up to of 530 knots (more than 600mph) from altitudes as low as ten feet or as high as 40,000ft for up to 90 minutes.

The Portsmouth-based destroyer launched individual Sea Darts as well as firing a salvo – two missiles leaving the launcher on the forecastle within seconds of each other.

Edinburgh’s Weapon Engineering Officer, Lt Cdr Stephen Carbery, in charge of Sea Dart, said:

“This system has been at the heart of maritime operations for three decades, defending units and task groups from air attack since the Falklands conflict in 1982 through to off Libya last year.

“Edinburgh’s deployment next year heralds the end of an era for Sea Dart and the Type 42 destroyer and we should be proud of both contributions over the past 30 years.”

Some 3,750 square miles of ocean – that’s an area bigger than the island of Cyprus – had to be cleared for a safe Sea Dart launch, known in official Royal Navy parlance as a High Seas Firing.

Sea Dart proved its worth in the Falklands conflict in 1982 – downing seven aircraft – and, a decade later, in the 1991 Gulf War when HMS Gloucester shot down an Iraqi Silkworm missile as it headed for the American battleship USS Missouri – the first time a missile has shot down another missile.

Although most associated with Type 42 destroyers, the Sea Dart missile was also fitted to destroyer HMS Bristol and, in the earlier years of their careers, the Invincible-class aircraft carriers.

Edinburgh’s Commanding Officer Cdr Nick Borbone, said:

“It is quite something for the team to have the opportunity to undertake what is likely to be the last peacetime firing of Sea Dart.

“The new destroyers with the Sea Viper system are well-placed to provide air defence this century but Sea Dart still packs a punch, and this firing is an important step forward for Edinburgh’s preparations for operations later in the year.”

Naval Today Staff, April 23, 2012; Image: royalnavy