Type 45 & PAAMS/Sea Viper

First published: 5th May 2011 | Dr. Alexander Clarke

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As I have said before the type 45s are in form a very well designed modern destroyer, they have lots of good points which have to born in mind when considering them; for example their striking stealth design. However, they have a glaringly bad point that they whilst they carry the brilliant Aster missiles (the equivalent of the SM-2 Block IV, but not the exceptional SM-3 ABM) – the primary reason for this entry, and are fitted for but do not carry the stalwart Harpoon SSM. They have the great new deck gun the 4.5in Mk 8 mod 1 gun, the decent if not exactly new or what I would have selected with the same decision to make combination of 2 Phalanx 20mm (instead of BAE MK110 57mm) placed flanking the ship (even if I had selected these, I would have put them fore and aft like they are fitted to the USN’s Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers, pictured left, and the RNs own Bulwark Class LPD– as this allows both to cover either side of the ship; thus providing a measure of insurance if one goes wrong). To my mind all the weaponry puts too much faith in the air defence capability of the missiles – they are very good, but they will also run out – the Royal Navy is not building enough of these destroyers (only 6) to not have to deal with that as a possibility. The lack of the long range land attack capability from the stowing of Tomahawks in a Type 41 or Type 53 VLS; or even perhaps the Storm Shadow Cruise missile which can be taken by the Sylver A70 VLS. However, if this does eventually become the case, then it would be advisable to have a large VLS than 48, perhaps a 64 or even 80 would be more useful. Another system, which I would certainly support, would be the addition of a rocket torpedo, either by the adaption of the Subroc (technically possible due to size of rocket and size of launcher – as shown in chart below), or the creation of a new one; more importantly the inclusion of any torpedo would be useful – as I am constantly saying the Royal Navy is not large enough to afford to have specialists, they need very good generalists; the insistence on such ships by the Civil Servants in the Ministry of Defence/Treasury is crippling them.

However, back to Sea Viper or Aster as everyone else calls them; there are two variants the Aster 15 – the Short/medium range surface-air anti-aircraft and anti-missile missile, and Aster 30 – the Long range anti-aircraft and anti-missile missile. Both have proximity detonated directed fragmentation warhead, fused to a solid propellant two-stage rocket. The operational range of the two types differ, the Aster 15’s range is 30km, whilst the Aster 30’s in 120km. The speed is also different being Mach 3 or 1000m/s for the Aster 15, whilst the Aster 30 is Mach 4.5 or 1400m/s. The real asset of these missiles though is their manoeuvrability. They achieve this through a new control system, where the control flaps are associated with four powder manoeuvre rockets at the centre of gravity of the missile, sometimes referred to as PIF-PAF, this system prevents a rupture of the missile under high-g manoeuvres during trajectory corrections (by placing less strain on the body). Thus, allowing violent manoeuvres to be performed without risking the missile and thus improving the precision of the missile and chances of impact on target. The one area of weakness perhaps, is the missile guidance, in its terminal it lacks the addition of an infra-red secondary homing system; something which is standard in both the newer American and Russian missiles.

Broadly speaking therefore the Type 45 is a very well-armed Area Air Defence Destroyer; unfortunately what the Royal Navy really needed was a GPGMD or General Purpose Guided Missile Destroyer. The Royal Navy needs the anti-ship SSMs, it needs the Land Attack Missiles, it most definitely needs the torpedoes – Helicopters do break occasionally after all, and it’s just nice to have a backup when faced with modern submarines with their quiet engines, anechoic tiles, and countless other tricks. The Aster, or the Sea Viper, though is really good weapon, okay compared to SM-3 its lacking, but no one has the Americans development budget, and that is built upon the history of possibly the most successful lineage of medium and long range missiles so far; whereas the Sea Viper, well its rather similar to the Sea Wolf lineage – the most successful short range missile so far. Fast, manoeuvrable with a decent range, they are what they are; very good area air defence missiles. The same is true for the Type 45s, unfortunately unlike the missiles; the Royal Navy needs the destroyers to be so much more.

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