Royal Navy’s Martlet missile debuts on Type 23 frigate HMS Sutherland

The Thales-developed Martlet missile made its debut on a Type 23 frigate as it hit a target boat in the Irish Sea after taking off from HMS Sutherland.

HMS Sutherland fired four missiles at a fast-moving speedboat to see whether the weapon could be launched from a ship as well as a helicopter.

Originally envisioned as being deployed on the navy’s AW159 Wildcat helicopters, recent incidents where both merchant and military shipping have been attacked by manned and unmanned surface and air systems prompted the navy to start fielding Martlet on surface ships.

All ships are armed with a series of machine-guns and mini-guns (manually-operated Gatling guns) to fend off small craft, while some are also equipped with Phalanx automated guns which spew out a hail of bullets at incoming aircraft, missiles and threats on the surface.

The Royal Navy wanted to add to those defenses and turned to the new missile system, modifying it so a launcher could be fitted to the existing 30mm automatic gun.

The service has not specified which vessel classes will eventually use the missile.

Just five months after the idea was mooted, the Plymouth-based frigate was off the Aberporth Range at the southern end of Cardigan Bay facing a fast inshore attack craft tearing across the water.


After first proving that the gun could still fire accurately with the missile fitted and that the sensors behind Martlet could track its radio-controlled target at ranges of up to five kilometers, four missiles were fired.

One tested the effect of the Martlet ‘blasting off’ from its launcher on the gun mounting and the side of Sutherland (the missile accelerates to one and a half times the speed of sound), while three telemetry-packed ones measured the missile’s accuracy (ordinarily the weapon carries a 3kg warhead).

All was recorded by high resolution cameras so the team from manufacturers Thales and military scientists could analyse the effects in detail.


Photo: Royal Navy


“The current defense against fast inshore attack craft, the 30mm gun, is highly effective for closer range engagements,” said Lieutenant Commander George Blakeman, HMS Sutherland’s Weapon Engineer Officer.

“By adding the missile to the gun mount it is anticipated it will extend the reach of the ship’s defensive systems – key to successful defense against fast craft using swarm attack tactics.

The missile was expected to achieve initial operational capability on the AW159 by 2019 but the Royal Navy is yet to provide an update on the project.

Photo: Photo: Royal Navy