A totally integrated state-of-the-art air defence system recently delivered to the Royal Artillery is propelling the British Army to the very forefront of ground based air defence missile technology.
The Royal Artillery has accepted into its arsenal the Sky Sabre air defence system, providing a step change in the British Army’s medium range air defence capability and with it, unprecedented speed, accuracy, performance and target acquisition.
Sky Sabre, as the name implies, is very much at the cutting edge replacing its venerable predecessor Rapier which recently entered its fifth decade of operation with British Forces. Rapier has seen service in Kuwait, the South Atlantic, and probably most visibly when it deployed to numerous London parks to combat any security threats during the 2012 Olympics.
The new system is operated by 16 Regiment Royal Artillery, part of 7 Air Defence Group, based at Baker Barracks on the South Coast’s Thorney Island. The Regiment is currently rolling out an extensive training package to transition from Rapier to the new system, and what a system that is.
To put into context how advanced Sky Sabre is, Major Tim Oakes, the Senior Training Officer for the training programme and one of the lynch pins in the delivery of the system, said, «Sky Sabre is so accurate and agile that it is capable of hitting a tennis ball sized object travelling at several times the speed of sound. In fact, it can control the flight of 24 missiles simultaneously whilst in flight, guiding them to intercept 24 separate targets. It is an amazing capability».
Delivered by the MOD’s procurement arm, Defence Equipment and Support, the system comprises of three separate components. Although pictured in the accompanying photographs together, in reality in the battlespace they would be expected to operate at distances of up to 15 km/9.32 miles apart.
First of all, there are the eyes and ears of the system and for Sky Sabre that is the Giraffe Agile Multi Beam 3D medium-range surveillance radar. Its radar rotates atop an extending mast which allows it to be elevated above tree lines and other obstructions to identify low flying intruders. The Giraffe can see a full 360 degrees out to a range of 120 km/74.56 miles. It is a tried and very much trusted system that has seen numerous upgrades since it first entered service.
The second component lies at the very heart of the whole system; it is, of course, the Battle Management and Intelligence suite. In essence, the command and control centre. This capability that links up the radar with the missiles and sends them to their targets. It also provides what is known as Link 16; this is a tactical datalink that allows Sky Sabre to share its information with Royal Navy vessels, the Royal Air Force, and our allies. It means that the system can be integrated wholly and contribute fully with joint, combined, or NATO operations.
Finally, we get to the sharp end; the third component is the Land Ceptor intelligent launcher and missile itself. At 99 kg/218 lbs. each, the missiles are double the weight of the Rapier it replaces and have three times the range. This is the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM) that reaches speeds of 2300 mph/3701 km/h and can eliminate fighter aircraft, drones, and even laser-guided smart bombs.
They are housed in eight silos mounted on the rear of their mobile launcher and when fired they launch in a unique omni-directional manner that significantly reduces its signature making it less of a target for enemy counter measures. When exhausted, the Land Ceptor launcher can be replenished with a new set of eight CAMMs in less than half the time that it took to re-arm Rapier.
Sky Sabre’s CAMM is the same missile that is used on board ships (Sea Ceptor) and shares components with the Royal Air Force munitions (ASRAAM). This commonality across all services brings with it huge logistical efficiencies as well as significant cost savings.
The Commanding Officer of 16 Regiment Royal Artillery, Lieutenant Colonel Chris Lane, said: «We will be able to compete with our peers and take on some of the toughest adversaries. It gives us a capability we have not had before; this new missile system with its new launcher and world-class radar will absolutely put us at the forefront of ground-based air defence».
16 Regiment Royal Artillery is now accepting into service the first tranche of this significant upgrade in the UK’s ability to defend itself from the air. Intended further procurements of Sky Sabre-based systems will be configured to operate in all parts of the globe. This means it could expect to see service world-wide much like its predecessor Rapier that will now gradually be phased out of service and returned to its scabbard!