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The Potential of Sea Viper

January 5, 2010

Along with the posts declaring the Type 45 destroyers, HMS Daring class as Britain new “Warriors”, there has been the little problem in the background about the vessel’s primary reason for existence, its Sea Viper missile systems has been a failure in recent tests. This would seem to throw cold water on my insistence that these are revolutionary warships, but I beg to differ. First, though, the story from Jane’s:

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Royal Navy (RN) are examining the potential impact of two successive test failures of the Sea Viper air-defence system on the overall programme for the service’s new Type 45 destroyers.

The MoD is working with prime contractor MBDA UK to review range and telemetry data after the latest failure to achieve an intercept. The MoD told Jane’s the two latest sets of Sea Viper test-firings “were not as successful as the earlier trials, although they have successfully provided vital system performance evidence”.

While I do see the stories from the media as a problem, which also declare it will be a year or more before the system is fully operational, I don’t view it as a game-changing issue. Recall that any new technology introduced into the fleet has its issues, as well as extended teething periods. Certainly the American Aegis radar would have been a viable, perhaps more affordable alternative, but remember also this advanced anti-missile and tracking technology has been maturing for decades (first deployed in 1983), while the PAAMS/Sea Viper is just entering service. There have been some embarrassing problems with Aegis, as with the downing of Iran Air Flight 655 by the USS Vincennes in 1988. Today all seems forgotten and we are even imagining new roles for the Revolutionary technology, beyond merely defending the aircraft carriers, but defending whole nations with BMD technology.

If you look at the potential of these new guided missile, phased array warships, you can take these setbacks in stride. Even with 80 such vessels in US service, plus a half dozen or more Aegis ships built by our allies, there is still not enough to go around. As Strategypage details:

The U.S. Navy is the victim of its own success, because of the high performance and reliability of its Aegis anti-ballistic missile (ABM) program. For example, earlier this year, for the 19th time, a U.S. Navy Aegis equipped ship used one of its SM-3 missiles to shoot down a ballistic missile. At that point, Aegis achieved an 83 percent success rate for these live test firings. So now everyone wants an Aegis ABM ship for protection.

Currently, the navy has 20 ships with the Aegis anti-missile system. Within three years, the navy will have 27 such ships. But in the meantime, the Aegis ABMs are in high demand by U.S. commanders, seeking some protection from hostile missiles in their area of operation. Japan has six Aegis ABM equipped warships, and these are used to provide protection from any North Korean mischief. But six isn’t enough, and some American ships are doing ABM patrols off Korea as well. But the navy needs these Aegis ABM ships for other work as well, and this is causing problems when the Department of Defense and the president come seeking some instant ABM protection.

A simple solution to the last statement–give the Aegis ships less to do! Take them off anti-piracy patrol, replacing them with off the shelf warships, or even hired vessels converted for that purpose. Stop looking on them merely as “carrier escorts”, considering their new-found role and importance on the world stage. With the enhanced abilities offered by the SM-3, as well as Tomahawk missiles for power projection, these ships should be recognized for what they are, and duly promoted to their acquired status as “new battleships“.

Which is why I would encourage our Island cousins, the Brits, full speed ahead on Sea Viper! The road might be perilous and fraught with even further setbacks. But as seen with America’s own guided missile ships, the end result is worth the effort, with the deployment of a new technology at sea, just when it is needed, in contrast to the false economy and deceptive security provided by last century naval airpower.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. D. E. Reddick permalink
    January 5, 2010 8:55 pm

    Bob,

    Well, there’s always the “Department of Cheaper Pirate Fighting” as espoused by Eagle1 at both EagleSpeak and the USNI Blog. The latter link provides for some excellent reading regarding how we might deal with Somali pirates and their ilk. There are several links within that USNI Blog article that lead to significantly meaningful enhancements and opportunities for combating pirates. It just requires that someone exercise the will to acquire such resources and create new forces geared towards and directly aimed at defeating piracy around the Horn of Africa. An alternative means by which to accomplish this is offered by Eagle1.

    Somali Pirates: 2009 A Record Year

    http://www.eaglespeak.us/2009/12/somali-pirates-2009-record-year.html#comments

    Department of Cheaper Pirate Fighting

    http://blog.usni.org/2009/04/16/department-of-cheaper-pirate-fighting/

  2. bob tolland permalink
    January 5, 2010 7:18 pm

    Great article Mike. Every time I hear about a 1.2 billion dollar (i think) super destroyer armed with enough firepower to engage a small city or even a small fleet, patrolling for pirates in skiffs and primitive small boats it drives me nuts. We NEED something smaller and cheaper for this duty as you have continually pointed out. I think something off the shelf sounds like the Exact thing we need. I am a great admirer or our armed forces but I don’t claim to be any type of an expert (far far from it actually). I just want to see our team win! Do you or any of your posters think that there is any type of a realistic possibility that we could see something like the off the shelf option you mentioned come to fruition? I’m getting to the point that I actually think Mercs could probably be better suited to the anti-piracy mission (not something i really want) but I think they could at least deploy lots of smaller boats and maybe a few mothership type vessels. anyways, sorry for the rambling, but thanks for the interesting article, makes my work day a bit more enjoyable.

  3. Sarcastic ShockwaveLover permalink
    January 5, 2010 2:31 pm

    Yeah, I always thought it was the crew, not the system. Though I think Mike’s pointing out that shooting down the airliner was bad publicity for the AEGIS, whether or not it was at fault. Being a big ticket project, all it had to do was be involved and the media descended like a pack of ignorant rabid scandal-hungry wolves.

  4. B.Smitty permalink
    January 5, 2010 2:08 pm

    A problem with AEGIS caused the downing of Flight 655? That’s news to me.

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