In Search of Exactor
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The EXACTOR missile system has an interesting background and demonstrates just how difficult it is to keep secrets in a modern interconnected society. Rumours first surfaced a few years ago with the release of a video on LiveLeak (now deleted) that showed one being used to destroy a Taleban IED team. The BBC broadcast a documentary called The Bomb Squad that had brief commentary on the system being used from Camp Bastion and there were some snippets released in official reports, the first one I think was the MoD Annual Accounts 2010-2011 about pinch point trades of all things, reporting a shortfall of 1 person against an establishment of 24.
Janes postulated that it was in fact the Spike NLOS (Non Line of Sight), Spike NLOS was formerly called the Tamuz missile and has been in service with the IDF for several years, since 1981 in fact, although obviously in earlier versions.
In addition to the basics of operational security the origin of Spike NLOS would have been of obvious concern.
The 2010 Royal Artillery Briefing Guide described how 39 Regiment Royal Artillery were re-organising to provide an integrated precision fires capability comprising a Brigade HQ Targeting Cell, GMLRS troop and two EXACTOR troops.
In 2011 Angus Robertson tabled a Parliamentary Question;
Angus Robertson (SNP Westminster Leader; Moray, Scottish National Party)
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence
(1) what vehicle is capable of firing the Exactor missile;
(2) whether his Department has acquired M133 armoured personnel carriers under urgent operational requirements for operations in Afghanistan.
Peter Luff (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence; Mid Worcestershire, Conservative)
The UK has a range of systems deployed in Afghanistan to support coalition forces and protect civilians. However, I am withholding further details on individual capabilities as their disclosure would, or would be likely to prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of the armed forces.
So basically, get lost!
There was also some information released on L and N Battery Association website
L Bty were the first to fire EXACTOR on Op HERRICk 11 and used it to devastating effect
Not a great deal of information emerged after that, apart the M113 vehicles that were used originally causing several issues and one or two LiveLeak videos that had some interesting snippets of night firings that look very much like those of Spike NLOS/Tamuz on YouTube.
Last year, another Jane’s article confirmed that the system was being bought into core and older missiles replaced with NLOS Mk5’s with dual mode EO/IR seekers after the UK had provided development funds, it also mentioned an Exactor 2. There were even hints of mounting them on the Wildcat for South Korea and as a hedge against the FASGW(H) not proceeding to contract.
It also confirmed that over 600 missiles had been purchased.
The most surprising revelation in the article was that Exactor was obtained in 2007 for use in Basra, with the UK leasing two launch vehicles and purchasing another twelve direct from Israeli war stocks. First users were 1 Royal Horse Artillery with 7 Royal Horse Artillery picking up the role soon after.
I also suspect with Warthog being bought into core for the Royal Artillery, for supporting the Desert Hawk mini UAV, Exactor 2 might find its way on to that vehicle, or the Viking BVs10’s that are planned to be used for Watchkeeper. Teaming Desert Hawk with Exactor would create a powerful combination.
Since that Jane’s article it has all gone a bit quiet, no news of Exactor 2, if indeed Exactor 2 is actually a new missile or just a better means of mounting it. One of the immeasurably knowledgeable TD commentariat recently mentioned a new trailer for Exactor!
The two videos below showcase its party trick, Beyond Line of Sight
Targets can be acquired post launch and using a data link guided onto the target from the launch post, or other location with suitable equipment. With a range of approximately 25km and a number of warhead choices it is an extremely potent weapon. By having that all essential ‘man in the loop’ guidance system many of the complex and challenging Rules of Engagement (ROE) constraints can be addressed, reducing response time considerably.
The use of a radio data link enables initial targeting information to be passed by off-board systems such as other ground units, UAV’s, helicopters or other aircraft and then the operator basically picks up from that point and flies the missile onto the target. The missile flies to a waypoint and the operator guides it for the final 3km.
Separating the launch point from the initial gatherer of targeting information is a significant advantage.
The South Koreans purchased them following the attacks against Yeongpyeong Island in 2010 and are likely to use them in the counter battery role.
Last month, Janes reported on a series of potential upgrades to the Rafael Spike family, including the NLOS that is being modified to accept a Semi Active Laser seeker to enable an additional means of providing target information to the missile, terminal guidance is still said to be electro optical.
A while ago this type of capability promise was being proposed by guided missiles that used fibre optic cables in the place of the Spike NLOS data link, Polyphem and EFOG-M for example. Shorter range variants of Spike also use fibre optic cable links.
These earlier fibre optic guided missiles showed real potential, before they were cancelled.
The US Precision Attack Missile launched from the NLOS launch system would also have provided a somewhat similar capability.
The Brazilian company, Avibras, also have a similar system called FOG-MPM
Hold on, this all sounds expensive.
It is, until you consider that these non line of sight missiles with a 20km plus range and very fast reaction times can dramatically reduce the need for close air support delivered either from fast jets or aircraft.
Add in the off-board targeting, fire from concealed positions and how they could be employed as a complimentary system to GMLRS and the cost barriers start to break down, unless of course, you want lots of nice Apaches and F35’s.
In a maritime context, we have recently been discussing the news that the Type 26 Frigate will be fitted with a BAE Mk45 Mod 4 gun system, this would be a great compliment and would enable precision land attack without over the target ‘eyes on’ from any number of vessels, large and small.
Because of their portability and low logistics requirement one could imagine them having great utility in a range of operational scenarios, from a Patrol Base or on the move from a vehicle.
If Exactor has been bought into core then it would be churlish to complain but can we have a legitimate concern about yet another boutique complex weapon entering service with no commonality with any of the other services.
Have we, yet again, missed a commonality trick?
I say this because I wonder if we might, with less of an urgent need for deployed capability in Afghanistan, thought about the possibility of using Brimstone.
The missile body, guidance, warhead and data link systems are proven, in service, manufactured in the UK and do not have any political baggage. Non line of sight data links are not rocket science (:)) and neither are optical guidance systems, remember Martel.
In fact, MBDA, the makers of Brimstone, have a data link system called the Universal Miniaturized Missile Data-Link (UMMD) that is designed for LOS and NLOS applications, there, on their shelves. Click here for a brochure.
None of this is to suggest it would somehow be easy to turn Brimstone into something offering the same capabilities as Spike NLOS but the base system is there, data links available and launch platforms relatively easy to integrate.
This would be largely launch platform agnostic, imagine putting them on a Viking or Warthog, a Pinzgauer or Husky, ATMP or MAN SV truck, a Royal Marines hovercraft, Royal Navy frigate and Wildcat or even inside a container.
In my recent detailed on post on Brimstone I suggested it could also be used in the Swingfire role, long range anti tank, and it still could, but the possibilities of a non line of sight Brimstone, or baby GMLRS with additional features, is equally interesting.
81mm Roll Corrected Mortar, Brimstone- NLOS, Light Gun with correcting fuse, AS90 with Excalibur and GMLRS, flight suits, strictly optional?