Britain needs to replace the old Sea Skua missiles carried by its Lynx naval helicopters. France could use a lighter missile than the 655 kg AM39 Exocet – one that could be carried by a wider range of helicopters, and offer a different attack profile. The answer to both needs may lie in a notional 110 kg missile under development by MBDA, as part of a broad 2006 “Team Complex Weapons” arrangement with the UK’s Ministry of Defence.
The tough part was getting Britain and France to come together and agree on the development framework for the Sea Venom / Anti-Navire Leger (ANL) / Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon – Heavy (FASGW-H) missile. Britain needs a strike missile to equip its new AW159 Wildcats, but France can already mount longer-range AM39 Exocets on its Super Puma helicopters, and didn’t feel a huge sense of urgency about its new NH90-NFH medium helicopters or AS565 Panther light naval helicopters. It took until 2013, but development is now underway.
Sea Venom / ANL / FASGW-H: The Missile
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The program’s goal is a 110 kg missile with a 30 kg warhead, one capable of sinking or disabling Fast Attack Craft (FAC) in the 50t – 500t ton range, and damaging corvettes or frigates. The choice of guidance modes should also allow it to be used for precision attack more generally. Boost and sustain rocket motors are both compliant with naval safety requirements, and steps have been taken to ease integration by minimizing changes to shipborne handling equipment, magazines, etc. that currently handle the Sea Skua and AS.15TT missiles.
The Sea Venom / ANL (Anti-Navire Leger) missile will rely on inertial navigation + Imaging Infrared (IIR) guidance, creating a fire-and-forget weapon that won’t alert its targets by broadcasting a radar signal. A radar altimeter looks down, to keep the missile skimming just above the waves and make it harder for defensive radars to pick up. ANL can be fired in either Lock-on Before Launch or Lock-on After Launch modes, and a bi-directional datalink allows updates and retargeting in flight.
As a comparative illustration, the semi-active radar homing AS.15 and Sea Skua aren’t fire and forget, while the Exocet’s active radar guidance will trigger a ship’s ESM defensive electronics.
Range isn’t given, but given its size, the ANL’s range is very likely to be shorter than the Exocet’s 70 km/ 38 nm. It’s said to be longer than the Sea Skua’s 25 km/ 13.5 nm, which represents the rough minimum in order to keep the launching helicopter beyond the reach of short range air defenses expected on FAC, corvette, and light frigate opponents.
Development will be led by European missile giant MBDA, who has branches on both sides of the English Channel and is owned by BAE, EADS, and Finmeccanica. They’re also the manufacturer of larger helicopter-launched anti-ship missiles like the AM39 Exocet and Marte Mk2, and shorter-range missiles like the FASGW-L/ LMM and laser-guided 127mm Zuni rockets.
Britain had been planning to replace its Sea Skua missiles by 2012 – 2014, but that won’t be possible. At best, there will be testing in late 2017 – early 2018. France’s timeline was more leisurely, aiming only to equip its NH90-NFH helicopters by 2020. Those timelines will force Britain to either extend the service life of its Lynx Mk8 helicopters and Sea Skua missiles, or do without a helicopter anti-ship capability until the new Sea Venom missile is ready for use from its new AW159 Wildcats.
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Exports aren’t a major focus yet, but Sea Venom will be the standard strike missile option aboard future AW159 maritime helicopters, and will compete for every NH90-NFH naval helicopter customer. Customers for its predecessor missiles offer another opportunity. Saudi Arabia was the only AS.15TT export customer, but Sea Skua has been exported for helicopter and shipborne use to Brazil, Germany, India, Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Korea, and Turkey.
Sea Venom’s competitors include MBDA’s own Marte Mk2/S, which will compete for NH90 orders, and Kongsberg’s popular Penguin missile. China’s TL-6 also sits in this category, but isn’t likely to compete because its integrated helicopters are unlikely to overlap.
Contracts & Key Events
2013 – 2020
Final Development contract; MoU with France and the UK; France puts ANL in their 5-year budget; UK faces a 3-year missile gap.
March 9/20: First Qualification Firing Trial The UK and France have completed the first qualification firing trial of the MBDA Sea Venom/Anti?Navire Léger Anti-Ship Missile, the Defense Equipment and Support agency. The missile, which will equip the Royal Navy’s AgustaWestland AW159 Lynx Wildcat HMA2 and future French Navy Airbus H160M helicopters, was test launched from a French DGA procurement agency-owned Airbus AS365 Dauphin helicopter off the south of France. According to DES, the test at the DGA Essais de Missiles test site near Ile du Levant saw the missile reach its cruise phase while skimming low to the sea. The helicopter crew then used images from the infrared seeker to aim the missile manually, and it went on to accurately hit its target. Intended to replace the Sea Skua under the Royal Navy’s Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy) requirement, the Sea Venom/ANL is designed to safely engage hostile vessels amongst civilian ones and could be used on a range of targets from small, fast-moving craft through to larger ships.
December 19/18: Delay The UK Royal Navy’s new Sea Venom/ANL missile faces a year-long delay. The missile is being developed under a $630 million contract issued by the UK and French governments. The missile will fulfil the UK’s Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy) requirement and will meet France’s national Anti Navire Léger requirement. The Sea Venom will eventually equip the Royal Navy’s Wildcat HMA2 helicopter and the French Navy’s Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger (HIL—Joint Light Helicopter) respectively. The delay means that the Royal Navy’s Wildcats will have to operate without their main anti-ship armament, ultimately limiting their ability to provide British ships – such as the HMS Queen Elizabeth – with an extended anti-ship capability until late 2021. The Sea Venom is a lightweight, subsonic sea-skimming missile guided by an IIR seeker. The missile is designed to counter a wide range of threats such as fast-moving patrol boats, corvettes and coastal targets.
March 13/18: Land-based Study European missile manufacturer MBDA has told Jane’s that the consortium is considering a land-based variant of its Sea Venom/Anti-Navire Léger (ANL) lightweight medium-range anti-ship missile. Developed for both the British Royal Navy and French Navy to equip the Wildcat HMA2 helicopter and Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger (HIL—Joint Light Helicopter) respectively in the anti-ship role, the new land variant could potentially play a part of a networked multilayered coastal defence solution. An internal feasibility study on whether the missile could fill this added role is now underway.
June 6/17: MBDA has successfully test-fired its Sea Venom/ANL anti-ship missile for the first time. The missile was launched from a Dauphin test bed helicopter owned by the French procurement agency, the Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA), at the Île du Levant test range in France. Jointly ordered in 2014, the Sea Venom/ANL project has been developed 50/50 between the UK and France for use on their respective AW159 Wildcat and Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger (HIL) helicopters, but has also been designed for use on a wide range of platforms, with air carriage trials having been conducted to demonstrate compatibility of the missile on legacy Lynx helicopters.
April 6/17: Critical Solutions International (CSI) has been contracted $132 million by the US DoD to provide Husky second-generation systems with related equipment and services to Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The US firm has partnered with the South African company DCD Protected Mobility to make the Husky family of mine-detection vehicles a US government program of record. The second-generation Husky 2G can accommodate two operators rather than one, making it more appropriate for long-duration route-clearance missions, and comes with ground-penetrating radar and other sensors in order to detect explosive devices.
November 22/16: Officials from the French and British governments have come to an agreement on further collaborative missile defense development. Franco-British missile manufacturer MBDA has been selected to support the project, which includes the establishment of new development centers in the company’s UK sites Stevenage and Bolton. The missile cooperation agreement comes shortly after officials announced the launch of the next phase of the $145 million joint Franco-British Maritime Mine Counter Measures program, which aims to improve naval defense technology.
November 15/16: The Royal Navy is expected to be left without an anti-ship missile strike capability between 2018-2020. Such a gap is being caused by the planned retirement of the Sea Skua missile in early 2017 and the 2018 retirement of the SWS60 Harpoon. A limited anti-ship capability will only return when the Sea Venom/ANL lightweight anti-ship missile is equipped on the Wildcat HMA.2 helicopter in late 2020. No funded program is in place by the UK for a Harpoon replacement, however.
November 5/15: The United Kingdom and France have signed a technology-sharing agreement to develop a next-generation cruise missile. The two partners are expected to award MBDA a development contract in coming months, with the Intergovernmental Agreement covering several complex weapons programs, including the helicopter-launched anti-submarine missile known as Sea Venom.
Oct 28/14: Sub-contractors. Sagem DS announces a contract with their long-standing partner MBDA to develop and produce the ANL/ Sea Venom’s imaging infrared seeker. Sagem has picked Britain’s Selex ES Ltd. as a subordinate participant.
Sagem’s IIR seeker is based on uncooled detectors, based on work done for the FELIN infantry modernization and MMP anti-tank missile program. The missile will also have the ability to send back images to the helicopter’s cockpit. That will give Sea Venom a man over the loop (MOTL) firing mode that could change the assigned target during the missile’s flight, or choose a precise impact point. Sagem DS, “Sagem seeker chosen for MBDA’s new light antiship missile”.
July 17/14: Weapons. AgustaWestland signs a EUR 113 million (about GBP 89.3M / $153.1M) contract with the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) to integrate, test, and install ANL anti-ship missile and LMM light strike missile system compatibility onto 28 Royal Navy AW159 Wildcat HMA2 helicopters.
Note that the UK MoD has also signed a EUR 60.2 million contract with LMM missile maker Thales regarding broader integration of their missile onto the Wildcat fleet. Sources: Finmeccanica, “Finmeccanica – AgustaWestland signed a contract worth EUR 113 million with the UK Ministry of Defence”.
March 27/14: Development. MBDA receives the missile’s Anglo-French contract, a GBP 500 million / EUR 602 million / $830 million award to finish development. It will be managed by the UK DE&S (Defence Equipment & Support) on behalf of the French and UK ministries, as part of MBDA’s Team Complex Weapons Portfolio in Britain. This is the follow-on to the Sept 10/09 Joint Assessment Phase.
Work will take place at the Joint Project Office in Bristol, at MBDA in Lostock near Manchester, and at Stevenage. This makes 4 joint missile projects between the 2 countries: ANL AshM, Aster SAM, Meteor BVR AAM, and Storm Shadow cruise missile. Sources: UK MoD, “Multi-million-pound investment in Royal Navy missiles” | French DGA, “Le programme franco-britannique de missile anti navire leger (ANL) est lance” | MBDA, “MBDA to Develop FASGW(H)/ANL, Next Generation Anglo-French Anti-Ship Missile”.
Feb 13/14: NAO Report. Britain’s National Audit Office releases their 2013 Major Projects Report, as well as their review of Britain’s 2013-2023 Equipment Plan. They place the value of the FASGW-H project’s Demonstration & Manufacture phase at GBP 452 million, and mention that:
“There have also been instances where project teams have relied too heavily on its industry partners, owing to resourcing problems. For example, the Department’s Scrutiny Team assessed in January 2012 that the teams responsible for implementing the heavy variant of the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon appeared to have entirely relied on its industry partners to plan the weapon’s integration on to Wildcat and it was not evident they had the necessary skills and staff required to successfully manage the integration. While funding is in place, the team has had difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff. The project team is currently conducting a review of staffing requirements to deliver this project.”
Jan 31/14: MoU. Britain and France were expected to sign a EUR 500 million Memorandum of Understanding to build FASGW-H, among other products of a head-of-state summit. They did sign an MoU confirming joint FASGW-H orders, but unlike other items in the agreement, there was no financial figure associated with it.
Meanwhile, French sources express quiet reservations about the difficulty of securing program cooperation with British political counterparts who are already in campaign mode for 2015, and express reservations regarding British austerity measures and their potential effects on joint programs and endeavors. Sources: The Independent, “Britain to set up controversial drone development partnership with France” | UK MoD, “UK and France agree closer defence co-operation” | Defense Update, “UK, France to Invest £120 million in a Joint UCAV Study” | IHS Jane’s, “France and the UK sign defence co-operation agreements” | Le Monde, “La defense au coeur du sommet franco-britannique”.
British – French MoU
Nov 27/13: France go-ahead. French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announces the end of “The End of History” in France’s Assemblée Nationale, and follows by heralding the launch of FASGW(H) and other defense programs. The 2014 – 2019 budget still needs to be approved, but the minister refers to development beginning by the end of 2013:
“D’ici la fin de 2013, pourront ainsi être engagés le missile moyenne portée MMP, qui prendra la succession des missiles MILAN, essentiel à la fois pour l’armée de terre et notre industrie missilière ; les travaux du nouveau standard du Rafale, améliorant ses capacités, avec entre autres l’intégration du missile Météor et d’un POD de désignation laser de nouvelle génération ; le missile anti navires léger ANL, que nous mènerons en coopération avec nos partenaires britanniques ; les nouveaux radars du programme SCCOA, conduit par Thalès, pour protéger le territoire national ; ou encore les bateaux multi-missions, lesB2M, destinés à l’outre-mer… Autant de contrats qui seront lancés, conformément au calendrier prévu.”
The delays will still present difficulties for Britain, which is very unlikely to get the missile in time to replace Sea Skuas by 2015. If 2018 is a more realistic date, Britain will need to either abandon the capability until ANL is ready, or extend the service life of its Lynx Mk8 fleet and Sea Skua missiles. Sources: Ministère de la Défense: “Allocution devant l’Assemblee nationale a l’occasion de l’examen du projet de loi de programmation militaire” | Naval Recognition, “French Minister of Defense Confirms Launch of ANL FASGW(H) anti-ship missile program”.
April 29/13: France. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian offered the 1st official confirmation of France’s intent to develop the ANL missile with Britain, during a speech at the Ecole Militaire staff college. On the other hand, his confirmation isn’t exactly laced with urgency.
He talks about including the anti-ship missile in France’s planning, but Britain needs the program to start very soon, in order to be ready by 2015. Otherwise, Britain’s AW159 Wildcat will find itself handicapped in the global export market. Where it competes against machines from Eurocopter, which is partly owned by the French state. The French Navy already has Super Puma helicopters equipped with Exocets, and are reportedly comfortable with ANL delivery after 2020.
Estimates for the Demonstration & Manufacture phase are around EUR 500 million ($655 million/ GBP 422 million), with another EUR 150 million or so to add it to French NH90-NFH and AS565 Panther naval helicopters and conduct all of the required trials. A bilateral high-level working group is expected to thrash out the details by summer 2013. A 50/50 split is expected for the base funding, but negotiations are underway, and the competing timelines give France added leverage. On the other hand, a failure could damage the broader 2010 Lancaster House cooperation agreement between Britain and France. Defense News.
Jan 10/13: NAO Report. Britain’s National Audit Office releases their 2012 Major Projects Report. With respect to FASGW-H:
“There will now be at least a 19-month gap between the existing [Sea Skua] capability leaving service and the new missile being available. The Department may extend the life of the existing missile to mitigate the gap…. Interim Main Gate 3 was the third of the submissions and concerned approval for the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy) Demonstration and Manufacture Phase. The Business Case was presented to Equipment Capability Secretariat on 9 January 2012 and was considered by the Investment Approvals Committee on 18 January. On 31 January, Director General Finance approved the case, with a caveat that negotiations should be concluded with France before 31 March 2012. Bi?laterals continued, but by 28 March  when Chief Secretary to the Treasury (CST) wrote to the MoD, discussions had not been concluded and as such Chief Secretary to the Treasury approved the case, subject to receiving French national approval.”
2009 – 2012
Joint Assessment Phase, Initial Team CW set doesn’t include FASGW-H.
Sept 16/10: MBDA offers a progress report for the Joint Assessment Phase. Short version: they’ve got a final system design, and proven the technical maturity of key sub-systems.
Trials have included high speed wind tunnels using a representative scale model, gas gun firings to validate the warhead design, rocket motor firings “in various thermal environments”; and trials of the seeker, radar altimeter, data link terminal, and missile antenna. What they need now, is a contract for the Demonstration & Manufacture phase. MBDA.
March 29/10: Team CW. MBDA and the UK MoD sign a GBP 330 million interim Portfolio Management Agreement (PMA-I) contract, as the 1st step in a “Team Complex Weapons” partnering arrangement that could be worth up to GBP 4 billion over the next 10 years.
FASGW-H is a bit of a sideshow, as they aren’t As part of PMA-I directly. Its Assessment Phase will continue as part of the meta-program, while the PMA-I contract focuses on the Demonstration and Manufacturing phases for the ground-fired Fire Shadow Loitering Munition, and air-launched Selective Precision Effects At Range (SPEAR Capability 2, Block 1). It also funds Assessment Phases for SPEAR Capability 3 to equip the F-35, and the naval CAMM/ Future Local Area Air Defence System (FLAADS). EADS.
Team Complex Weapons PMA-I
Sept 10/09: Assessment phase. MBDA welcomes the announcement by the United Kingdom and France of a Joint Assessment Phase, funding initial development work on “a common solution for the next generation of a European helicopter anti-surface weapon.” They’re referring to FASGW(H) / ANL. MBDA.
* French DGA – Le missile anti-navire leger : un atout de poids pour la marine.
* MBDA – Sea Venom / ANL. Also known as Britain’s FASGW-H program.
* MBDA – FASGW(H)/ANL. Slated for Lynx Wildcat, NH90-NFH, and AS565-SB Panther helicopters.
* MBDA – MARTE MK2/S. ANL competitor, uses active radar guidance. Integrated aboard NH90-NFH and AW101 helicopters.
* Designation Systems – Kongsberg AGM-119 Penguin. ANL competitor, uses INS/IIR guidance. Integrated aboard Lynx, H-60 Seahawk, and SH-2G Super Seasprite helicopters.
* Naval Technology – AS 565MB Panther Mulitrole [sic] Naval Helicopter, France
* DID DII – NH90: Europe’s Medium Helicopter Contender
News & Views
* UK Armed Forces Commentary (Nov 18/13) – The evolving budget situation: helicopters – UPDATE
* Think Defence (April 21/13) – UK Complex Weapons – Part 4 (Sea Skua and FASGW(H)). Includes a good recap of Sea Skua’s combat service.