Royal Navy to Lose its Anti-Ship Missiles

Harpoon launch (Royal Navy file image)

Published Nov 15, 2016 8:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK Ministry of Defense has decided not to fund a replacement for the Royal Navy's aging Harpoon anti-ship missiles – meaning that after 2018, its frigates and destroyers will lack a long-range surface warfare capability for the foreseeable future.

"It's a significant capability gap and the Government is being irresponsible. It just shows that our warships are for the shop window and not for fighting," said Rear Adm. Chris Parry, speaking to the Telegraph. 

In addition to the loss of the ship-launched Harpoon, the service's Lynx Wildcat helicopters will lose their anti-ship missiles next year. These will not be replaced until 2020, when the lightweight Sea Venom will enter service, leaving a gap of at least two years.

The Sea Venom's 30kg warhead is designed to be effective against smaller targets (corvette and smaller), with a more limited "precision" targeted strike capability against larger vessels. 

Analysts expect the Sea Venom's range to be between about 15-40 nm. Larger Russian surface combatants, like the Kara and Kirov classes, carry S-300 surface-to-air missiles with a range of 50 nm – eliminating the Wildcat's ability to strike from a standoff distance.

The loss of the Harpoon, which has been in service since 1984, leaves the Royal Navy with its Mk 8 4.5 inch deck guns, which can reach to a range of about 17 nm. 

The news follows shortly after the U.S. Navy's announcement that it will not be buying a precision land-attack munition for the Advanced Gun System, a self-loading 155mm deck gun mounted on the new Zumwalt class of destroyers. Due to the Navy’s slashed order for the Zumwalt class, the rounds would be procured in smaller quantity, leading to a prohibitively high cost of over $800,000 per shot.