Umkhonto Missiles to Equip Visby Corvettes?
Forecast International reports that Sweden has decided to equip its 5 Visby Class stealth corvettes with Denel’s Umkhonto-IR anti-aircraft missile system (and see PDF brochure) at a total cost of about SEK 1 billion (currently about $149.6 million). The deal has yet to be approved by the Swedish parliament. This Umkhonto (“spear”) relies on inertial guidance coordinates transmitted by the attached 3-D radar, followed by lock-on after launch with the infrared seeker. The entire system is capable of engaging up to 8 targets, and has a range of 12 km and a maximum intercept altitude of about 10 km/ 33,000 feet. Umkhonto is currently in service on Finland’s Hamina class missile boats and Hameenmaa class minelayers, on South Africa’s new Meko Class frigates, and by the South African Army as a land-based SAM(Surface to Air Missile) system.
Forecast International adds that the stealthy Visby corvette program has received other setbacks and downgrades lately. Earlier in 2007, the new 127 mm ALECTO Anti-Submarine rocket system with its 2 trainable 6-rocket launchers had its development stopped. Visby corvettes will carry RBS15 Mk2 anti-ship missiles with half the range of the Mk3 variant, though their 100km range and warhead punch will still outclass the USA’s much larger Littoral Combat Ships by a wide margin. Unlike the LCS, however, Visby class ships won’t have an enclosed helicopter hangar, since the ship wouldn’t allow enough room for the planned A-109 HKP-15SBO.
A Swedish DID reader takes issue with Forecast International’s characterization, however, and also offers an explanation for the Umkhonto’s selection…
Umkhonto’s range is not that much larger than Saab Sweden’s own 8km coverage, unjammable RBS-70 Bolide missile, which can be linked with radars and has been adopted by a number of armies and navies. Saab also makes the medium-range BAMSE system with 50% better coverage than Umkhonto-IR.
On the other hand, Umkhonto missiles can be fired from vertical launch cells that do not break the ship’s stealth profile, can act as industrial offsets for South Africa’s JAS-39 Gripen purchase, and received good reviews from Finland.
Our reader also points out that over the past year, pending parliamental approval, the Visby project will have received another 1900 millions SEK (currently about US$ 284 million) over its original budget for new equipment:
- All-Climate Internationalisation. SEK 900 Million added costs on 5 corvettes. Link (Swedish)
- Integration of the Reinmetall MASS decoy-launching system (midship/aft and bow). If so, this would appear to complete a purchase decision made in 2004.
- The HYDRA active and passive ASW package including towable sonar [Swedish page] is installed, as well as the hull-integraded sonar [Swedish page].
- New unmanned USVs has been ordered for the Visbys, including the ROV-S “Double Eagle.”
- Sweden has a significant inventory of RBS 15 Mk2 missiles, and these were always the missiles intended for the Visby Class. Whether this is sub-optimization is debatable, but our reader takes issue with Forecast International’s characterization as a downgrade or a setback.
- Our reader adds that the plan for the Visby corvettes was either a hangar or a air defense VLS – but not both, as this is not possible given the ship’s size. “The YS-Ny project (Surface Warship New) currently in research will unquestionably incorporate a hangar and so will most likely the new support ships. So the helicopters will come to use in the 2015+ time regardless.”