Surface Forces: Naked Destroyers Exposed


June 13,2008: Seven months ago, Britain removed the Sea Dart surface-to-air missiles from two of its elderly Type 42 destroyers. This allowed six sailors to be removed from the crews in each ship. The navy insists this is no big deal, but the British mass media disagreed.

Sea Dart is a .55 ton, 1970s era missile, that is optimized to take down high flying aircraft. The max range is about 155 kilometers, and the missile has also proved capable of dealing with low flying, high speed targets (like anti-ship missiles). The first time a missile knocked down an anti-ship missile was in 1991, when a Sea Dart destroyed a Chinese made Silkworm missile (after it had missed its target).

The Type 45 destroyers, which are replacing the Type 42, will use the Aster missile, which entered service in 2001. This is a European system that has a short range (.31 ton Aster 15) and long range (.51 ton Aster 30) versions of the missile. Aster was designed to go after anti-ship missiles, as well as saturation attacks (eight Asters can be launched in ten seconds.) Aster is launched from vertical cells in the ship.

Removing the Sea Darts from the older ships was an economy move, as the Royal Navy has had its budget cut sharply since the Cold War ended in 1991. The admirals believe there is no air threat out there, where the Type 42s operate, and the ships each have a pair of Phalanx anti-missile systems. However, British warships have suffered from a number of shortages over the last decade, providing the mass media with an endless supply of breathless stories.




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