Ground and Sea Launched SPEAR 3

A few months ago I posted an update on the UK’s Selected Precision Effects At Range (SPEAR) Capability 3 requirement, without going too much into the detail (click here to read) one thing that struck me as an important advantage of the proposed MBDA solution over the Raytheon Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) II was the simple fact that it is powered. The two are very similar but obviously, the SDB II is at a much more advanced stage of development.

Because the MBDA solution has a small turbine engine it is reportedly capable of doubling the range of SDB II and being capable of much-increased manoeuver.

The difficult question for the UK is whether to accept the compromise and go for the US off the shelf solution or develop SPEAR.

The title of the post was Hard Sums Ahead, they will be, the decision will be a financial one of course.

I have a theory that one of the reasons CAMM is already an export success before it is in service and Brimstone is, pretty much, an export failure after many years of sterling service, is because of launch platform diversity.

CAMM can be used off a ship just as easily as a truck, and it is radar agnostic. We have failed to integrate Brimstone with anything but the Tornado, and now, Typhoon. If we had taken the decision early on with Dual Mode Brimstone to fund Apache, Wildcat and Reaper integration, gone the whole hog with the ‘Sea Spear’ concept and, as planned, deployed a ground-launched variant to replace the Swingfire ATGW, I think it would have seen more customers adopt it.

That aside, with SPEAR Cap 3, I think we need to think of ways to diversify its launch platforms and in a nutshell, do more with it. This means we should be thinking beyond F35 and Typhoon and onto other platforms. This will maximise flexibility and improve exportability.

Which brings me on to the subject of the post.

If we do opt for a development programme, and I think we should, launch platform diversity simply has to be a consideration.

In a maritime context, MBDA has shown an artist’s impression of SPEAR with a booster, quad packed into a CAMM launch cell. This means customers of the CAMM system will be able to easily deploy an all-weather land attack and anti-surface guided weapon, a weapon with a multi-mode seeker, tactical data link and range in excess of 100km and one that can hit moving targets. Smaller vessels will be able to pack a serious punch with very little positioning, top weight and efflux management issues.

SPEAR 3 vertical launch

Integration of SPEAR with a Mk 41 VLS opens up an even wider market.

Whether to use a small booster is used to clear the VLS with the onboard micro-turbine used for the rest of the flight or a longer ranged rocket booster used to increase range, is also another consideration. One could see some derivative of the CAMM rocket engine and control system used, of course, it is not as simple as just bolting SPEAR to the front of a CAMM missile, but some degree of commonality should surely be possible?

A standalone container could also be sited on almost any vessel of opportunity, from a frigate, to a RHIB.

In UK service, there may be some crossover between a sea-launched SPEAR and the new 5″ gun being fitted to the Type 26 Global Combat Ship

Overlapping capabilities are never a bad thing, and if we can perfect a soft launch VLS approach, like CAMM, other possibilities in the land domain become possible.

In the land environment, two concepts spring to mind…

The first is to use a ground-launched SPEAR missile as a replacement for the EXACTOR (Spike NLOS) missile. EXACTOR was purchased for a theatre-specific role but as Israel has shown with Spike NLOS, it is a very effective and flexible weapon that has been used in all spectrums of operation.

It takes me back to some of the original Netfires NLOS concepts and FOG-M.

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NLOS Concept

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Netfires NLOS 2

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NLOS Image 2



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NLOS Image 3

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NETFIRES was actually a brilliant concept, execution less so, but the concept was sound, apart from being a little over-complex.

i.e. platform independent, easily transported (12 on a NATO standard pallet), air-portable, over the horizon precision fire support, integrated with existing artillery and rocket command and control systems.

To completely replace EXACTOR, SPEAR would need an electro-optical guidance system but these are hardly at the cutting edge of technology, just another option at the front!

If SPEAR can be vertically launched, using the low-cost CAMM launch cells, one could easily imagine a host of launch platforms and configurations being used. A multiple round VLS type container could be air dropped to provide support for Special Forces or simply mounted on the back of trucks and other vehicles. With an ability to be distributed and fire from behind cover or from a reverse slope, it would provide an excellent overwatch system that complements direct fire (and faster to target) anti-tank guided weapons.

If the tactical data link had the range, or could be extended using airborne platforms, another use would be possible, one that is already being developed by Saab and Boeing.

The Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb combines GMLRS and the Boeing SDB.

90km range of the GMLRS is then extended by the SDB’s 60km range.

With SPEAR 3, range is greater, so that would be 90km plus at least, another 100km. SPEAR Cap 3 is described as a 100km weapon but indications are that 140km is achievable.

200km minimum is only a third less than ATACMS, an interesting comparison.

This is not to say that SPEAR Cap 3 has the punch of ATACMS, because it doesn’t, but it would provide an extra dimension to the deep(ish) strike/interdiction repertoire.

With increasing costs of fast jet aircraft, they are inevitably becoming less numerous, providing land forces with a relatively cheap means of attacking rear area targets with precision would compensate for this, allowing the aircraft to attack higher priority targets more suited to their capabilities.

Again, the warhead on SPEARis smaller than GMLRS or Paveway IV, so not a complete one for one replacement.

If the UK is to invest in SPEAR, and not simply buy off some other nations shelf, we need to avoid stove-piped thinking and recognise that such a system has utility across the land, sea and air domains.

By building in this joint effects thinking, we also maximise commonality and export potential.

SPEAR need not be a solely air-launched weapon, and we should avoid thinking of it as such.








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November 15, 2015 4:47 pm

I don’t think there’s a good case for a ground-launched PGM in the 100-400 km range category.
Approx. 100 km (GUMLRS territory) is fine for one brigade giving fire support to other brigades in a low force density campaign.
Approx. 450-499 km with a powerful warhead is appropriate as a salvo-capable substitute to elaborate and expensive air power strike packages.

Anything in between begs the question “why bother”? The target would either be high value-enough for the 499 km missile or relatively irrelevant in the short term due to distance to most friendly forces. The time of flight would largely exclude the engagement of moving or even most stationary yet mobile targets. The cost efficiency of a shot between 100 and 450 km will be worse than of one at up to 100 km maximum – and if it wasn’t, why buy the 100 km maximum munition at all?

November 15, 2015 5:35 pm

In theory, I tend to agree:
– arty with Bonus & the likes against armour, up to 40 km
– GMLRS unitary against precision (not mobile) targets and AW warhead against concentrations and soft targets up to 100 km
– then we come to a situation where targeting will have to be by air anyway, so why not use air platforms to extend the range to be anything that is needed (without necessarily picking up the hefty ATACMS tab for each launch)?
– however, such platforms might be prioritised for other tasks and can be detected (intercepted?) before launch. Here is where the contour flying, round the hills GLSDB will provide an edge, whether that edge is out to 140 km or something else. The counter systems for ground-launched ballistic trajectory systems will become quite effective, or may be are so already.

shark bait
November 15, 2015 8:01 pm

“SPEAR need not be a solely air-launched weapon, and we should avoid thinking of it as such.”

Completely agree. The UK has too many single usage weapons which means they fail to live up to their potential both domestically and internationally.

Spear 3 has great potential, which can only be realised through some ruthless commonality, adopting current technology, and integrating across everything we have. I think we have to see more commonality everywhere to maximise the effect our resources can achieve.

November 16, 2015 6:56 am

The UK has to forgo something for this. Sell off the UOR called Exactor which hasn’t been kept a secret?

November 16, 2015 7:59 am

Can anyone tell me why we’re developing Sea Venom at a cost of £380 million when its weight, range etc are virtually identical to the proposed SPEAR3?

November 16, 2015 8:07 am
Reply to  AndyC

I thought Sea Venom is 25+km and SPEAR 3 3 is definitely 70+km?

Well, you need to have relations with the French.

November 16, 2015 10:26 am
Reply to  AndyC

It looks as if Sea Venom is designed with some compatibility with the Sea Skua and AS15TT missiles to minimize the cost of upgrading to the new missile. Also the seeker and warhead are significantly different and possibility somewhat cheaper; Less focus on “multi-effects” and more on the specialized anti-ship role.

Otherwise they do look very similar, as you say.

The Other Chris
November 16, 2015 1:44 pm

The UK has to forgo something for this.

I’d like this standard assumption, along with the related “we’re broke” groupthink to be challenged.

November 16, 2015 2:09 pm

TOC – it may be a misconception that funds are so thin as to be transparent, but it does enable both serious argument over the absolute need for any acquisition, and a believable rationale when purchase demands are rejected.

Every news programme on every day has some talking head explaining why their particular bit of public funding is overstretched and how it is *absolutely vital* the government must dramatically increase funding for whatever it is. The arts, nursery care, youth clubs, NHS, police, road repairs, rail expansion, extra runways at airports, green belt protection, housing development, benefits. Pressure groups all demanding something must be done, by which they mean more cash to benefit their cause. They all no doubt have valid claims to some degree, although sometimes it seems there is a compulsion to cry “But we’re broke!” just in case the Gov’t should turn a greedy eye on their funding stream.

What can be guaranteed though is that if it became known there were greater funds available than previously believed, every one of the pressure groups would descend in a feeding frenzy upon the Treasury demanding the lion’s share. Defence wouldn’t get a look-in.

We all like the luxury of a little more cash to spend; sometimes when the funds seem healthy we spend unwisely, because its affordable and no great issue if the purchase proves useless. When there isn’t quite enough in the bank we judge purchases with a much more critical eye, and only spend what is absolutely necessary. I am content that public bodies do not feel entitled to waste taxpayers’ money but take care to buy only what is really needed.

November 16, 2015 4:37 pm

Sea Venom is data-linked Imaging infrared. this wont set off your ESM.

Its main feature tho is to allow pinpoint targeting of systems with a serious warhead.

I would argue that Spear 3 in anti-ship role is more focused on saturation attack from standoff ranges.
Using preloaded fire and forget target profiles.

Two very potent techniques, but very different in terms of platform and usage. I would argue they complament each other quite well.

November 16, 2015 7:10 pm

When integration costs are £50-200m per platform for modern complex weapons, how can we ever afford to put SPEAR3 on everything?

Chris Mitchell
Chris Mitchell
November 16, 2015 9:05 pm

We could join with Norway and Australia to develop the Kongsberg JSM

November 16, 2015 9:19 pm
Reply to  Chris Mitchell

Kongsberg JSM is a 400kg class missile. It’s not really in the same class as the 100kg SPEAR3 and Sea Venom.

Jeremy M H
November 16, 2015 9:21 pm

What makes you think they need any help? Australia is just footing some of the bill for the project so they are involved. But it’s a derivative missile for which both sides are putting some new bits. I don’t see what they need any other partner for at this point. The thing is basically designed and built.