A snapshot of MBDA’s range of missiles
A FORCE Report
Le Plessis, Paris: Geography notwithstanding, Afghanistan seems to be close to MBDA. It is not only the test-bed for land-based and airborne missiles; it is inspiration for new developments and is the final battlefield as well. Afghanistan’s indirect shadow looms on the naval missiles also, in the form of terrorism and non-state actors marshalling smaller crafts to threaten coastal security. So whether it was about the changing battlefield, new type of enemy, urban and littoral warfare or even plain terrorism, Afghanistan managed to squirm its way into most presentations. Perhaps, you need to visualise the enemy when you conceive a weapon system.
Scenario-building aside, the point of the exercise in all presentations was to showcase the wide array of missiles that MBDA has for every conceivable theatre on land, air, sea and undersea. While some missiles are interoperable, several others are role and theatre specific with distinguished capabilities. Though MBDA has an exhaustive range, here are a few highlights.
VL MICA: One of the most versatile missiles, MICA in its various configurations can be fired from ships, aircraft as well as ground-based coastal battery. The maritime version is vertical launch (VL), all weather missile with thrust vector control. It has the minimum range of one kilometre and the maximum of 20km. It has two types of seekers, the active RF and the passive IR. In its sea-skimming role it flies at subsonic speed and in higher altitude at supersonic speed. In its air defence role, it can even engage small sized targets like air launched bombs or missiles. It leaves no cloud of dust upon fire because the gasses are ejected upwards through a duct integrated in the canister, hence has low IR signature. It can intercept supersonic cruise missile at the range of 10km, subsonic ones at 15km, guided bombs/missiles at 15km, jet fighters at 15 to 20km, large aircraft and helicopters at 20km and large UAVs at 30kft. According to MBDA, one VL MICA launcher with four missiles can protect an area of 700sqkm.
Exocet: One of the most successful MBDA missiles, Exocet has spawned a family of its own since it started in 1974 with the range of 42km. The family, comprising Exocet AM 39, MM 38, SM 39 and MM 40 Block 3 (with range of 180km) has 35 customers worldwide, with India being one of them. India has contracted for Exocet SM 39 as part of the Scorpene submarine deal. SM 39 can fire from great depth and not mere periscope depth. Exocet MM 40 Block 3 is the latest ship-launch missile with fire-and-forget qualities. Called a true sea-skimmer, it has both anti-ship and coastal attack capability. Exocet AM 39 is the air launched version currently employed on Rafale fighter. With the range of 70km, it is credited to being a real self-adapted sea skimming missile and is being offered to the IAF on Rafale as part of MMRCA competition. It is also being offered to the Navy on Sea King helicopters.
Marte: The Marte Mk 2, air and ship-launched anti-ship missile is currently integrated with both AW 101 and NH 90. The extended range version, Marte ER, with turbojet propulsion and the range of 120km is a sea skimming missile which is interoperable with Marte Mk 2.
GROUND-BASED AIR DEFENCE
Mistral: In combination with VL MICA and Aster, Mistral forms the ground-based air defence triad. With the altitude of three km and distance of six km, Mistral forms the first link in the air defence chain (VSHORAD), followed by VL MICA with 10km altitude and 20km distance (SHORAD). The final link is Aster which is a Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR SAM). MBDA is hopeful of plugging the gap between SHORAD and LR SAM by SR SAM that it plans to jointly develop with the DRDO. Mistral is a fire and forget missile which easy to operate and is capable of multi-targeting. Its range of missions includes static and mobile defence, self-protection of ships and air to air combat of helicopters. It can engage two targets in five seconds and can be mounted both on trucks as well as ground. It is highly resistable to counter-measures.
Aster: That Aster is the pride of MBDA is evident from the life-size model of the missile outside the corporate office. Flying at the speed of 1,400m per second, Aster can hit the target at the minimum range of three km and the maximum range of 120km. It has a dual mode warhead which can engage both the aircraft as well as ballistic missile with high accuracy complimented by inertial mid-course guidance. Eight missiles can be fired in seven seconds and one troop of four launchers with eight missiles each can hit 32 targets. It has a multi-functional, tri-dimensional radar that also enables identification of friend and foe.
Eryx: This is a close combat anti-tank missile with the range of 50 to 600m. It is man-portable and can be used by infantry platoons and Special Forces. Guided throughout its trajectory, Eryx has a tandem warhead to hit and penetrate. It also boasts of thrust vector control and a short firing sequence of three per minute. It can be fired from close areas as it has very little impact upon being fired. More than 50,000 Eryx missiles have been ordered so far. Milan: The fact that 3,60,000 Milan ATGM have been delivered so far speaks for itself. Interestingly, of these 10 per cent have been produced by BDL. The latest version, after Milan 2T is Milan Extended Range (three km) with a tandem warhead. PARS 3 LR: As the name suggests, this is a long range air-to-ground, fire and forget missile capable of tracking four targets at the same time. It can track four targets at the same time and locks on before launch. It is a quick reaction missile capable of salvo firing, four missile in 10 seconds in the range of 500m to seven km at the speed of 290m per second. It has a tandem warhead and can follow two trajectories, direct or top attack mode. It also has a prediction mode for temporarily hidden targets. MBDA has responded to a government of India RFP for air to ground missile with PARS 3 LR.
Scalp/Storm Shadow: This is a high precision, long range, stealth cruise missile with turbojet propulsion and imaging IR sensor, inertial measurement unit with TRN and GPS. It has automatic target recognition with metric precision. The missile has the range of 241km and flies at the speed of 0.8 mach. MBDA is currently working on the submarine-launched version of the missile with automatic target-seeker, the range of which is confidential at the moment. ASRAAM: Within visual range Advanced Short Range Air to Air Missile (ASRAAM) is currently in service with the Royal Air Force on Eurofighter Typhoon and Australian Air Force on FA/18. Weighing 88kg, ASRAAM is multi-aircraft operable. Its smooth airframe with four independent fins at the back ensures low drag and lifting body aerodynamics. This fire and forget missile leaves low signature and has a large no escape zone for the enemy missile. MBDA claims this to be the fastest air to air missile in the world. This has been offered to India as part of the Jaguar upgrade (in competition with Python 5) for over the wing store. It also forms part of the Eurofighter weapon suite in the MMRCA competition.
Meteor: Beyond Visual Range Meteor is currently under development. Its no escape zone will be three times greater than any AMRAAM at the moment and will move at twice the speed of sound. Several firings have already been done to validate its Ramjet motor and guidance system. Meteor is likely to enter service in RAF in 2014. Dual Mode Brimstone: This was the result of the Urgent Operational Requirement (UOP) issued by the RAF in August 2007. It needed a highly accurate missile to minimise collateral damage in areas with mixed population for employment in Afghanistan. MBDA modified mmW seeker with dual mode capability. Now operational in Afghanistan, DMB utilises both mmW radar and Semi Active Laser (SAL) for guidance to ensure pin-point accuracy and very little area of impact. MBDA is currently working on the naval version to counter the threat of Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FIAC) and is hopeful of getting it operational by 2011.
Fire Shadow – Loitering Munition: MBDA has offered Fire Shadow to India in response to the RFI for a medium range loitering munition. It has a range of 100km and can loiter in the air for 10 hours at the height of 10,000ft. It is low-cost, surface-launched munition that can be positioned in the airspace for a long time. Though rocket-launched, it behaves like a UAV once fired. According to MBDA, this has the potential of replacing the need for close air support as it will be organic to the army operations. It will enter service with the UK Army next year.