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Sea Dart

Designed in the 1960s, Sea Dart provides limited effectiveness against emerging stressing 21st century threats. or nearly 40 years the Sea Dart missile has been the Fleet's first line of defence against air attack. It is the main weapon of our Type 42 destroyers, proven in both the Falklands and the first Gulf War. Since it was first introduced in the early 1970s Sea Dart has been constantly improved, doubling the missile's range now to some 80 miles. Sea Dart is fired from the distinctive launcher in front of the Type 42's bridge. A booster rocket helps the missile roar away from the ship, accelerating Sea Dart to twice the speed of sound – at which point its ramjet engine sustains its flight until it engages its target.

Sea Dart had one overwhelming weakness: designed to meet high-flying Russian aircraft, it could not engage targets at low level. The Sea Darts were woefully inadequate against low altitude targets. During much of the Cold War the most important British anti-air missile was the heavy, long range Sea Dart, carried by larger ships. Sea Darts denied the enemy the advantages of high level reconnaissance and high level attack, it imposed upon enemy aircraft penalties to fuel consumption and tactical choice. lthough most associated with Type 42 destroyers, the Sea Dart missile was also fitted to destroyer HMS Bristol and, in the earlier years of their careers, the Invincible-class aircraft carriers.

The British Sea Dart had a range of 55 km and a missile launch weight of 550 kg. The United States uses the Standard SM-1 with a range of 60 km and a missile launch weight of 590 km, Standard SM-2 with a range of 100 km and a missile launch weight of 1,060 kg. The French Masurka MK2 has a range of 45 km and a missile launch weight of 1,850 kg. Besides these, others included US Talos(120 kin) and UK Sea Slug II (45 km).

The monitoring system of the Type 901 Seaslug radar was considered to be somewhat revolutionary when introduced and its complexity was the butt of very widespread objections at that time. However, the Type 909 Sea Dart radar Monitoring System contained twice as many components as the whole of the Type 901 Radar. Now two whole 901 radars just to monitor a Type 909 radar seemed a bit much and provoked such stock phrases as "the tail's wagging the dog" and "what monitors the monitor?" The Type 909 Radar had eight times the component population of Type 901 and that the Type 909 Monitoring System had more than twice the component population of the whole of the Type 901 Radar.

Sea Dart was built around the Odin ramjet. Sea Dart had a booster/ramjet, where the rocket motor was used to boost up the missile to speeds where the ramjet may be operated. Transition took place at Mach numbers between 1 and 2. The tandem configuration used on the Sea-Dart was also used on the Talos (USA), (UK), the SA-4 (USSR), the Vega (France) and the Stataltex (France). The booster and ramjet motor are positioned in line with each other. The booster motor is jettisoned after operation. The intake is integrated in the vehicle and placed in the nose. In this way, the disad- vantage of an unwanted high structural weight during the ramjet phase is largely overcome. However, boost and ramjet phases still have separate combustion chambers.

In the Falklands War, the area-defense missile system in British warships was the Sea Dart, fitted in seven ships present in the Falklands. The Sea Dart is credited with eight aircraft kills. The British outer air defense rarely consisted of more than four SEA HARRIERs, each with a short-range intercept radar, carrying only two air-to-air missiles each. Due to the range of the patrol stations from their carrier bases, the SEA HARRIERs were capable of maintaining station for only about 20 minutes. Against the large number of attackers that penetrated this very thin air defense outer barrier, British surface-to-air missile systems like SEA DART and SEA WOLF, although often saturated, generally performed better than expected. But because their combatant ships lacked adequate "last ditch" close-in weapons, the British were unable to knock down the remaining bombers reaching the fleet.

The British Naval Task Group on its way towards the British Maritime Exclusion Zone around the Falklands Islands was being shadowed by an Argentine Air Force Boeing 707. The British leake information that permission had been granted to shoot the aircraft down, in the hopes that that would dissuade the 707 from venturing out. On the evening of 23 April 1982 the aircraft approached at high altitude. The Sea Dart system on HMS Invincible was locked on. Twenty seconds from giving the order to fire a check of the plot of the flight's route determined that the aircraft was on a direct line from Durban, South Africa to Rio de Janeiro. The aircraft was a Brazilian airliner.

For many years the combatants of China’s navy had virtually no air defense capabilities. An attempt was apparently made to put an antiaircraft surface-to~air rnissile system aboard the Kiangrung class frigates of the Chinese navy, but the retrofitting was abandoned. Subsequently, the PRC embarked upon negotiations with Great Britain’s Aerospace Dynamics and Vosper Thornycroft to arm eight. of its Lula class destroyers and some of its frigates with the Sea Dart surface-to-air rnissilesystem and electronic countermeasures capable of deflecting incoming missiles. but the order was canceled in early 1983, apparently because of a shortfall in foreign exchange. The PLAN cancelled a contract with the British to modernize the Luda destroyer - partly, because of the poor performance of the Sea Dart SAM in the Falklands/ Malvinas War, but mainly because of the high cost.

The Persian Gulf War produced a limited number of missile engagements, because most of the attacks conducted on naval targets were done by A-6Es with precision guidance weapons and naval assets were used for tactical missile launches, picket duties and the amphibious force escort. This war did provide a first. It occurred when HMS Gloucester, using its Sea Dart system, shot down a Silkworm missile launched at the USS Missouri on February 25, 1991. Twenty-four hours into the ground campaign, Iraqis manning the Kuwait Silkworm missile sites fired two anti-ship missiles at Missouri. The first landed harmlessly between Missouri and USS Jarrett (FFG 33). The second, headed straight for Missouri, but was intercepted by two Sea Dart missiles from the British warship HMS Gloucester (D 96). This is the first confirmed successful use of surface-to-air missiles against an incoming missile attack in fifty years of anti-ship cruise missile production and use. This incident is classified as a defendable target, which was defended successfully.

A program of modifications to upgrade Sea Dart so that it can deal more effectively with modern threats such as sea-skimming and high-diving missiles was underway by 2001. The upgrade equipping Sea Dart with infrared fuses was originally forecast to come into service in 1993 but was running eight years late, primarily due to technical difficulties. It is currently forecast to come into service in mid-2001 at a cost of £43 million. This delay has contributed to the anti-air capability shortfall.

For probably the last time in its 40-year history the Navy’s principal shield against air attack, Sea Dart missiles, were fired 20 April 2012 by a Royal Navy warship. HMS Edinburgh launched seven of the Mach 2 missiles at target drones off the Outer Hebrides in a last hurrah ahead of a major military exercise off western Scotland. The destroyer successfully fired seven missiles off the Outer Hebrides ahead of Exercise Joint Warrior, which tests Britain’s military ability to respond to a crisis. The firing was carried out to show the system could still be used, as Edinburgh will serve as the UK’s final Type 42 destroyer while the new Type 45 destroyers and their Sea Viper missiles enter service.

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