UK’s new anti-ship missiles ready for front-line ops

Martlet and Sea Venom – the Royal Navy’s two new air-to-surface anti-ship missiles – have completed extensive tests in the Atlantic.

Around 30 people – aircrew, scientists, meteorologists, test pilots/engineers and technicians from across the Royal Navy, the UK MOD, science and industry – were involved in the trials, which saw the Wildcat from 815 Naval Air Squadron land and take off more than 900 times in different conditions/with different payloads by day and night.

Approaching Argus; Photo: Royal Navy

The trials in the Atlantic and Mediterranean are to help write the manual for using the weapon in various weather and sea conditions, allowing Fleet Air Arm aviators to take out small and large threats to the fleet.

Both missiles come under the banner of the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon:

  • Martlet, a light missile weighing just 13kg, intended for smaller/lightly-protected targets;
  • Sea Venom, with ten times the punch of Martlet for larger, more heavily armoured warships.

Fitting either on special ‘weapon wings’ affects the way the helicopter handles, so to determine the boundaries for safe flying – known as Ship Helicopter Operating Limits – a specially-modified Wildcat, packed with sensors, joined aviation training ship RFA Argus for a month.

A myriad of conditions impact on the performance of a helicopter: wind speed, direction and airflow over the deck, humidity, temperature, the sea state, pitch and roll of the deck, as well as the weight and configuration of the aircraft itself.

Argus sailed more than 8,000 miles in the Atlantic, mostly between the Canary Islands and Cape Verde, and then into the Mediterranean, chasing different weather conditions.

Martlet was fired on deployment for the first time last autumn during HMS Queen Elizabeth’s mission to the Pacific. It’s intended to take out smaller threats to the Fleet – fast attack craft, motor boats, patrol boats with its 3kg explosive charge as Martlet smashes into its target at twice the speed of sound.

From initial results, the team say the trials exceeded expectations as the Wildcat clocked up 87 hours with weapons loads in seven different configurations, with the helicopter on occasions loaded up to more than six tonnes.

Once analysed, the data will guide air/ground crew – from those straight out of training to the most experienced Fleet Air Arm aviators – in operating a Martlet/Sea Venom-armed Wildcat on frigates, destroyers, auxiliaries and Queen Elizabeth-class carriers.

Photo: Wildcat left wing tooled up; Photo: Royal Navy