With a loud roar and a flash of fire, a Seawolf missile erupts from its launcher aboard HMS Iron Duke, proving the Navy’s new cutting edge 3D radar system.
It’s the first time the new radar – Artisan – has been used to track a sea-skimming target ahead of the missile knocking it out of the sky off the coast of Portland.
Iron Duke is the first ship in the Fleet to receive Artisan – also known as 997 in the Royal Navy – which she’s been testing extensively around the UK since she completed a refit last year.
That revamp also saw her receive the latest version of Seawolf – a missile which has protected Royal Navy frigates from air attack for more than 30 years and been constantly updated over time to meet the latest threats in the skies.
After going through eight weeks of tough training in and around Plymouth, the frigate was on her way back to her home base of Portsmouth when the moment came to test the new Artisan and Seawolf for the first time.
Off the Dorset coast, Iron Duke waited for the trials aircraft to trail out its target on a very long tow wire.
Artisan successfully tracked the target – which acts like a sea-skimming missile – then passed the data to the Seawolf system to follow and shoot, successfully blasting the object out of the Channel sky with a direct hit.
“We had just finished eight hard weeks of training where we’d used Seawolf in simulation mode to defend ourselves against hostile aircraft and missiles,” said Lieutenant Commander Chris L’Amie, one of Iron Duke’s principal war officers who was directing the firing from the frigate’s operations room.
“To cap off the training with a live shoot was hugely satisfying. I’m pleased the team performed well and we achieved the firing quickly and efficiently. It really boosted confidence in the new radar ahead of Iron Duke’s deployment.”
Lt Cdr Jim Hyde, whose Short Range Air Defence (SHORAD) team is responsible for both Artisan and the upgraded Seawolf, was on board Iron Duke for the successful shoot.
“Following a challenging trials and development programme, today was significant as it was the first time we have conducted a live firing with 997,” he said.
“It was rewarding to see both the new radar and the upgraded weapon system operate together perfectly, successfully demonstrating end-to-end combat system performance, and validating a lot of hard work done by agencies across MOD and in industry.”
Artisan is being fitted to the Royal Navy’s Type 23 frigates as well as its two new aircraft carrier and assault ships Ocean and Albion. It could also be the principal air radar of the Type 26 combat ship, successor to the 23s, which enter service next decade.
As well as being able to track up to 800 targets simultaneously, it can do so if they’re 200 metres from Iron Duke – that’s roughly the width of the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour – or 200 kilometres (125 miles) away.
The Seawolf shoot was the icing on the cake for the 180 men and women aboard the ship who’ve spent the spring with the RN’s Flag Officer Sea Training organisation preparing for their looming first deployment since refit.
The ship and sailors have been put through their paces, tested in the arts of war, peace, peacekeeping and disaster relief as well as the expected battle exercises.
The series of tough tests put everyone aboard under stress and are designed to ensure they are ready to react under any circumstance to changing missions and circumstances.
On one day they were practising disaster relief after a civil emergency, another evacuating citizens from a trouble-stricken city. The weekend before the Seawolf firing Iron Duke was hosting dignitaries and schoolchildren as a way of promoting UK interests worldwide.
Press Release, April 16, 2014; Image: Royal Navy