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French Navy Frigates Could Get Ballistic Missile Defence Capability.

| 2018

According to the 2019-2025 military planning law released today, France will study the integration of Aster 30 B1NT missiles aboard Air Defense Frigates, providing them with Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) capability.

ASTER 30 PAAMS Horizon 2008 Aster Missile launch from a Horizon class destroyer. MBDA picture.

The 2014 French military planning law has earmarked funds to launch the development of Aster Block 1 NT in cooperation with Italy. This new version of Aster will extend the antiballistic capability of the missile from a range of 600km up to 1,500km. On December 20, OCCAR (Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation) notified to EUROSAM, a consortium formed by MBDA and Thales, the amendment 1 of the contract for the “B1NT” programme. This amendment embodies the participation of Italy in the programme. It follows the notification of the initial contract under French mandate on December 23, 2015, and the Arrangement of Cooperation, signed in June 2016 by the French and Italian Defence Ministers, laying down the framework of responsibilities and rights of the two countries vis-a-vis the missile to be developed in cooperation, and its multiple applications in land and naval defence systems against air attacks and ballistic missiles.

The “B1NT” programme includes the development by MBDA of the new version Block 1 NT (New Technology) of the Aster missile but also the modernisation of SAMP/T systems currently in service with the French Air Force and the Italian Army. These systems will thus acquire enhanced capabilities, particularly against ballistic missiles, constituting an essential contribution for both countries to the NATO programme in this area.

The Aster 30 Block 1 NT missile development takes into account the key dual requirement (same missile for ground and naval Aster systems), including thus the necessary adjustments to allow the missile to be fired from warships. Italy has in fact expressed its desire to use the Aster 30 Block 1 NT from its future class of PPA (Pattugliatori Polivalenti d’Altura) offshore patrol vessels.

MBDA video on Aster Block 1 NT missile: the advantages of the new Ka-band seeker

About the Aster system

The Aster 30 Block 1 NT missile evolution consists in a new seeker operating in Ka band, replacing the current Ku band seeker, as well as a new improved weapon controller. This change delivers a significant performance enhancement.

The new missile will be capable of intercepting threats of the entry of the MRBM (Medium Range Ballistic Missiles) domain whereas the current Aster 30 Block 1 deals with SRBM (Short Range Ballistic Missiles) of up to 600 km range and it will also be capable of dealing with missiles with separable warheads.

Launched in 1988 by France and Italy, the Aster family (also known as FSAF – Future Surface-to-Air Family) exists as a ground based air and missile defence system (SAMP/T) in service with the Italian Army and the French Air Force. It is also deployed in its naval versions for the self defence of the French and Italian Navies aircraft carriers and provides the self, local and fleet area defence capability on British, French and Italian frigates and destroyers. The UK, which deploys Aster missiles on its Type 45 destroyers, declared during the Franco-British summit held in Amiens in March 2016, that it is considering the new Block 1 NT version for this class of ships.

MBDA video on Aster missile interception scenario

While the military planning law only mentions "Air Defense Frigates", or in other words Horizon-class destroyers, the future FREMM with "increased air defense capabilities" (the last two of the FREMM series for the French Navy: Alsace and Loraine), and the future FTI frigates are likely to be fitted with Aster 30 Block 1 NT missiles as well. (With a doubt for the FREMM since they will only be fitted with a "boosted" variant of the Herakles radar).

The Horizon-class destroyers (classified as frigates in the French Navy) are multi-role surface combatants specialized in air defence. There are two vessels of this class in the French Navy, Forbin and Chevalier Paul both built by French shipyard DCNS (the vessels were launched in March 2005 and July 2006 respectively, and commissioned in 2008 and 2009). They are fitted with 48x MBDA Aster 15 and 30 surface to air missile in vertical launch systems. The main mission of this class is to provide an air-defence umbrella, protecting high value units (typically a carrier strike group or amphibious ready group). The main threats Horizon-class destroyers may deal with are both supersonic anti-ship missiles and strike aircraft.

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