Ground and Sea Launched SPEAR 3

SPEAR 3 vertical launch

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.

NLOS Concept

Netfires NLOS 2

NLOS Image 2

NLOS Image 3


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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