Sea Venom is the new(ish) name for the Future Air to Surface Guided Weapon – Heavy (FASGW(H)), a replacement for Sea Skua.
MBDA describe it as;
Sea Venom will enter service with the Royal Navy and arm the Wildcat helicopter.
Sea Venom History
The Egyptian attack on the Israeli destroyer Eilat (formerly HMS Zealous) from the Komar class fast attack craft using SS-N-2 (Styx) or P-15 anti-ship missiles in 1967 draw into sharp focus the reality of the threat of Soviet anti-ship missiles.
The ripples it sent through Western naval leadership were considerable, even though they should have known exactly the effect as Warsaw Pact forces had been using them for some time. A weapon was needed to hold missile-armed fast attack craft at a distance, that weapon was a system, the Westland Lynx, Ferranti Seaspray Radar and British Aircraft Corporation CL 834 Missile.
These would replace the Westland Wasp and AS12 missiles.
The CL 834 was announced in 1972 and was intended to have enough range to be fired beyond the range of any Fast Attack Craft self-defence systems and have enough punch to sink it in one. Seaspray, Lynx and CL 834 were not developed in isolation; all three were designed to integrate to create a potent threat to the fast attack craft as so ably demonstrated by the Egyptians.
Seaspray would detect and illuminate the target for semi-active guidance seeker in the missile to home on to. Supplementing the Seaspray the Racal ‘Orange Crop’ Electronic Support Measures (ESM) system could also be used to provide targeting information which meant the radar could be used much later in the engagement, a valuable tactical advantage. Sea Skua is relatively compact at 2.85m long, 0.22m in diameter and weighing just under 150kg, between two and four can be carried by a Lynx helicopter. Its semi-armour-piercing warhead weighs 30kg of which 9kg is the explosive material, RDX, more than enough to deal with fast attack craft and corvette sized vessels.
A newly developed lightweight J Band radar altimeter would allow the missile to fly at extremely low altitude.
Arab forces would not repeat their earlier success with a sea-skimming missile, during the 1973 Yom Kippur war they reportedly fired over 50 Styx missiles without a single hit, the Israeli forces obviously being fast learners.
As the missile continued development it was renamed Sea Skua, first flight took place in late 1979 at the Aberporth range in Wales and first deliveries to the Royal Navy made in 1981, just in time for the Falklands Conflict. After the initial definition stage in 1972 production started in 1981 and although it was in service at the time of the Falklands conflict it was not fully in service. Of the 24 815 NAS Lynx HAS.2’s taking part in Operation Corporate, 16 were capable of firing the Sea Skua.
On the 3rd of May, a Lynx from HMS Coventry launched a number of Sea Skua against the ARA Alferez Sobral.
Click here for an account of the attack in Spanish.
Whilst searching for the downed crew of an Argentine Air Force Canberra a Sea King spotted her and after a short burst of gunfire from the ship it retired and sought help. Two Lynx armed with Sea Skua were launched from HMS Coventry and HMS Glasgow who both attacked, twenty minutes apart.
Significant damage was done but she eventually limped back to port a couple of days later.
In 1990, British Aerospace and Ferranti funded a demonstration of a ship launched Sea Skua onboard the patrol craft the Verifier (designed by Amgram). This confirmed Sea Skua could be fired and guided to target from a small fast attack craft. A ground launched coastal defence variant was also developed.
A shore defence system was also proposed.
The next major outing for Sea Skua was during the 1991 Iraq War where Sea Skua would be used by the Royal Navy to sink 4 Iraqi patrol boats and severely damage at least 12 others small vessels including minesweepers and landing craft. The Gulf War operation was interesting for a number of reasons; it validated the Royal Navy’s insistence on maintaining an effective capability against small craft through a combination of equipment and training and in an unusual situation, found itself in a position of possessing a capability unavailable to the US Navy. Although the US had purchased the much larger Kongsberg Penguin missile it was not used by helicopters at the time.
Operating in conjunction with USN SH-60’s proved to be a good partnership.
The infamous ‘Bubiyan Turkey Shoot’ saw a number of Iraqi vessels caught in open water and severely damaged over a period of days, read more here about the 18 hits from 25 Sea Skua launches.
In the run up to the 1991 Gulf War, a number of modifications were made to Royal Navy Sea Skua missiles in order to allow them to fly at lower altitudes.
Sea Skua achieved some export success, it was, or is, in service with France, India, Kuwait, Malaysia, Germany and others.
There have been a number of small incremental upgrades and the replacement of the energetics to extend its useful life at a total cost of some £13m but it was getting long in the tooth by the time the Future Air to Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy) project was announced.
Like legacy Brimstone and Dual Mode Brimstone, the principal driver for change was the need for increasing positive verification of target identification in cluttered environments.
Future Air to Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy) FASGW(H) emerged in 2001 with the intention of being a straight replacement for Sea Skua and Wildcat with Sea Skua leaving service between 2012 and 2014. FASGW(H) envisaged a smaller missile, at 100kg, but one with a range of additional targeting options able to be used in the ‘cluttered littoral’ with complex and restrictive rules of engagement (ROE)
MBDA proposed the Sea Skua IR, which swapped the Semi-Active Radar guidance for an infrared seeker in cooperation with Kongsberg who were at the time in the initial development stages of their Naval Strike Missile (NSM). Sea Skua 2 was another option, details released in 2006 indicated a longer range (40km), an active radar seeker, digital electronics and a new body form. The active radar seeker would provide a ‘fire and forget’ capability, improving the survivability of the launch aircraft.
A Sea Skua replacement was part of the original Team Complex Weapons initiative involving the MoD, Roxel, Thales and the MoD but this changed later to include a collaborative development with France to meet their emergent Anti-Navire Léger (Light Anti-Ship) requirement.
FASGW(H) became FASGW(H)/ANL
The programme then became ensnared the complexities of Anglo-French defence politics, not made easier by being a few years apart in timing. It has, however, rubbed along and should be in service relatively soon.
A £35 million Assessment Phase contract was awarded in 2008 with both nations sharing the cost.
Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, Quentin Davies, said;
A £500 million demonstration and manufacturing contract was awarded to MBDA on March 27th, 2014, the UK’s share being approximately £280 million.
The Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Philip Dunne, said:
The design changed over this phase but the essential details remained.
In addition to the Development and Manufacture contract, the MoD let a £90 million contract for Wildcat integration in 2014. This contract also included integration for FASGW(L), the smaller Martlet missile.
Initial flight trials were completed in 2015, the missile, now called Sea Venom, is in flight qualification using a Dauphin helicopter.
Initial Royal Navy Wildcat firing is scheduled for 2018 with IOC planned for 2020.
With the £35 million Assessment, £280 million Development and Manufacture and the £90 million Wildcat integration contract, Sea Venom has been a relatively modest investment; just over £400 million.
In July 2016, Leonardo Helicopters awarded a contract to General Dynamics to upgrade the Stores Management System on Wildcat to enable control of Martlet and Sea Venom.
The scope of the contract includes;
- Develop new safety-critical software to control the complex MIL-STD-1760 missile interfaces.
- Implement plug and play software architecture, which will significantly reduce the cost of integrating future weapons.
- Introduce hardware design changes to the existing SMS design to support two additional weapon stations on the helicopter.
- Design and manufacture a handheld test set to allow the helicopter electrical interfaces to be rapidly tested in conjunction with the SMS Built-in-Test capability.
- Re-test and certify the overall SMS functionality in accordance with UK safety standards DEF-STAN 0055/56.
- Update the existing in-service SMS equipment to the ‘FASGW’ standard.
Also in July 2016, the MoD announced financial support to MBDA and Leonardo to integrate Martlet and Sea Venom on legacy Lynx aircraft to enhance export opportunities.
On February 25th 2017, the Royal Navy conducted the last firing of Sea Skua. Three missiles were fired by a Fleet Air Arm Lynx HMA.8 flying off HMS Portland. The following month, Lynx helicopters were also withdrawn. The missile was formally withdrawn in March 2017.
Royal Navy Wildcat helicopters are not cleared to fire Sea Skua and Sea Venom has yet to enter service, thus creating a capability gap until Sea Venom and Martlet enter service in 2020.
Sea Venom Capabilities
Sea Venom weighs 110kg, is 2.5m long and 200mm in diameter. The warhead weighs 30Kg.
It is intended for targets in the 50 to 500 tonnes with a range in excess of Sea Skua. Although Sea Skua is often reported with a range of 15-24km it is thought that it has more. As air defence systems continue to proliferate and improve the additional stand-off range becomes essential. Other improvements are reported to include aim point selection, a new IR seeker, a two-way data link and much greater resistance to countermeasures.
Sea Venom also has a land attack capability.
The two-way tactical data link provides positive target identification and ‘man in the loop’ retargeting aim point correction and abort.
The 28 Royal Navy Wildcat helicopters will be able to carry four Sea Venom missiles each, no other UK aircraft are currently planned to carry it and no surface launch variant either.