Surface-to-Air: Britain’s serious lack of missiles

Looking at the UK’s military, a striking omission is the lack of long-range surface-to-air missiles capable of shooting down ballistic missiles. In fact, there are no strategic defence systems currently operated by the UK. Recent tensions with Iran has shown us that conflict with a ballistic missile armed adversary could occur at any time.

Currently, the longest-range, land-based, surface-to-air missile system fielded by the UK is the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM). Know as Sky Sabre in Army service, CAMM has a range of around 16 miles.

CAMM has capabilities against aircraft and cruise missiles but isn’t an anti-ballistic missile. In fact, there are no dedicated anti-ballistic missiles in the UK’s inventory. Improved missiles and software may add a basic capability to the Aster 30 missiles on the Type 45 destroyers, although only if cost allows.

The lack of an anti-ballistic missile in the inventory seriously risks the safety of British civilians in any future conflict. Alongside this it means that British task forces won’t have the capability to defend themselves in theatre, having to rely on allies to defend them.

This capability, while costly, is vital in an age of tactical ballistic missiles. Russia, China, and Iran all field anti-carrier ballistic missiles and e the threat to our homeland and interests are in danger in any future conflict.

The UK has been a development partner in the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) and this shows we have an interest in such systems. MEADS is a surface-to-air missile system developed to succeed the US Patriot missile in NATO service.

A decision needs to be made capability and this is arguably best served by purchasing MEADS, at least in the medium term.

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The fact that Britain was a partner in the development of MEADS poses the question, Why haven’t we bought it? (MEADS)

Longer-term the UK needs to be considering Russian intermediate-range weapons, which fly at lower trajectories than intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Such weapons are now beginning to include hypersonic weapons. Hypersonic weapons are more difficult to kill, having the ability to manoeuvre throughout their flight, at speeds of above five times the speed of sound.

Aster and CAMM have superb capability against cruise missiles and aircraft but Aster is only just receiving upgrades to gain a viable anti-ballistic missile capability.

Serious investment needs to be made in an anti-ballistic missile defence system and if at all possible this should include missiles such as Arrow 3. An Israeli missile which offers exoatmospheric interception of ICBMs, Arrow 3 is widely regarded as one of the most capable such systems on the planet/

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Arrow 3 is the perfect example of what capability can currently be deployed (USMDA)

Israel has a perfect, tiered, missile defence system that we need to consider copying parts of. While it’s granted that we don’t require the same level of protection against lower-level threats as a nuclear power we require protection from ICBMs.

Currently, the UK has the perfect early warning system in Flylingdales however without active defences it’s defenceless. If the government is serious about maintaining Britain’s status as a major power, then missile defences need to be invested in.

When the costs of acquiring surface-to-air defences are looked at it seems extremely high, but this isn’t the whole story.

To look at defensive weapons you have to look at the asset you’re defending. A warship is an awfully expensive asset, both economically and in terms of manpower. To lose a Type 45 destroyer would be a disaster, therefore what cost is viable to defend it?

Homeland defences have the same equation. What value do you place on your infrastructure as a developed nation? No amount of spending on weapons will ever equal the value the UK places on its homeland. Therefore, the UK has to get very serious, very quickly, about how it’s going to defend its homeland.

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