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Sea Skua

From 1982 until 2017, the Royal Navys helicopter-fired anti-ship missile was the Sea Skua. This weapon gave the helicopter a strike capability that will enable destroyers and frigates to hit targets far beyond the horizon. Carried on Lynx helicopters, the Sea Skua had a semi-active homing radar and a range of about 15km. It was the first missile system developed specifically for the Fleet Air Arm and was successfully deployed in both the Falklands conflict and the first Gulf War. Able to fire the Sea Skua, which was so successful during the Gulf war, the Lynx formed an integral part of the ships detection and weapon system and can project the influence of a ship over great distances with the key element of surprise. In addition to the Sea Skua the Lynx had the Sting Ray torpedo and the older technology but nevertheless most effective depth charge for anti-submarine warfare.

The skuas are strong, acrobatic fliers. They are generally aggressive in disposition. The skuas are a group of seabirds with about seven species forming the family Stercorariidae and the genus Stercorarius. The three smaller skuas are called jaegers in the Americas. The word "jaeger" is derived from the German word Jger, meaning "hunter". The English word "skua" comes from the Faroese name skgvur for the Great Skua, with the island of Skvoy renowned for its colony of that bird. The general Faroese term for skuas is kjgvi. Skuas nest on the ground in temperate and Arctic regions, and are long-distance migrants. They have even been sighted at the South Pole.[A skua is a bird of prey that has evolved from seagull-like ancestors. Skuas have no claws, so when they tear up meat, they must engage in a skua tug-of-war. Many are partial kleptoparasites, comprising up to 95% of the feeding methods of wintering birds, by chasing gulls, terns and other seabirds to steal their catches, regardless of the size of the species attacked (up to 3 times heavier than the attacking skua).

Sea Skuas replacement, which will likely enter service in 2020, is the Sea Venom/ Anti-Navire Lger anti-ship missile. The Sea Venom will weigh around 100kg and will be armed with a 30kg warhead and guided by an imaging infrared seeker. The missile is designed to destroy targets ranging from small, fast attack craft through to full-sized corvettes, while also allowing for a land attack capability if required.

In September 1975, the UK Government decided the next steps to be taken on the procurement of major guided weapons systems for the British Forces. Full development, by the British Aircraft Corporation, of the helicopter anti-ship missile Sea Skua is to proceed. Sea Skua, the anti-ship missile for mounting in helicopters, would now go into full development by the British Aircraft Corporation. This weapon would provide British destroyers and frigates with a strike capability stretching far beyond the horizon. It is the only weapon of its kind in the world, and it had aroused keen interest in a number of foreign navies. The Sea Skua, which was a unique weapon and is designed primarily to arm the Lynx, which is an Anglo-French helicopter. It was an extremely fine machine, having been purchased by five navies in the world. Therefore, it was assumed that a unique weapon adapted to a Franco-English helicopter of outstanding performance should be a good seller, and should be, among a number of weapons, a contribution to the guided missile capability of the NATO alliance. Sea Skua had been in service since the Falklands in 1982, when it was rushed into action and was used to knock out several Argentine vessels. The estimated total cost of the design, development and production of Sea Skua is 220 million: the extra cost of accelerating its introduction into service was 45,000. It really made its mark in 1991 - not least because the US Navy had nothing similar, so Sea Skua-armed Lynx were sent in to catch Iraqi ships as they tried to break out off Babiyan Island. Most were shot up in what the Americans dubbed a 'turkey shoot'.

The most successful weapon in the Royal Navy since World War 2, the Sea Skua missile all but wiped out Saddam Hussein's Navy single-handedly in the first Gulf War in 1991, wrecking 14 enemy ships. The Sea Skua anti-surface missile was launched 12 times during the Gulf War - and registered 12 hits. The Ministry of Defence conducted a thorough examination of all aspects of the Gulf operation, including battalion an assessment of equipment performance. The Sea Skua missile, carried by the Navy's Lynx helicopters, proved very effective, achieving a high success rate which included responsibility for around a quarter of Iraqi naval losses. After Royal Navy Lynx helicopters, armed with Sea Skua anti-ship missiles, helped to destroy the Iraqi Navy during the fighting in the 1991 Gulf War, Iraqi maritime forces ceased to function as an effective fighting organisation. Although this naval victory was initially acknowledged as an overwhelming military success, its repercussions would have significant implications more than a decade later. When the second Gulf War of 2003 ended in total defeat for Iraqi Forces, the coalition nations were legally obliged to take over the safeguarding of Iraqi waters in the Gulf and, in particular, the precious oil platforms that are the vital outlets for Iraqs oil exports. The UK Ministry of Defence had problems maintaining three types of naval missile made by British Aerospace (BAe), the Sea Dart area air defence weapon, the Seawolf point defence missile and the helicopter-launched Sea Skua light anti-ship missile. These missiles all have problems with ageing components. For Sea Skua, in 1999 the MOD contracted directly with Royal Ordnance Summerfield for refurbishment of the rocket motors.

In order to extend the operational life of the missiles, some component change and re-qualification programs had been carried out. These included replacing the energetic material used in both rocket motors, at a cost of about 11 million; and refurbishment of the missiles motor ignition delay unit, at a cost of 0.9 million. In addition, Sea Skua was subject to a life extension program at a cost of 0.8 million. There were no plans to make further improvements to the Sea Skua system. The Armed Forces use propellant produced at Royal Ordnance Bishopton to fire a range of 105mm and 155mm artillery projectiles and 120mm tank projectiles, the Naval 4.5" Gun and rocket motors for the Royal Navy's Sea Wolf and Sea Skua missiles. It also produces raw propellant material used in a number of in-service missiles and small calibre ammunition manufactured at other locations. Re-qualification costs were estimated to be some 5 million for the Blackcap Rocket Motor propellant. However, there would have been re-qualification costs whether Bishopton closed or not, since RO had already made the decision to discontinue the factory's capability to manufacture double base extruded rocket motor propellant and nitro-glycerine. The increase in cost for the new motor for Sea Wolf Block 2 is less than 10%. This reflects the work and risk involved in redesigning the motor. These costs are not connected with re-qualification and would be incurred regardless of where manufacture took place. the Sea Skua missile, currently fitted to the Royal Navy's Lynx helicopter. There are no plans to fit the Sea Skua to the Merlin helicopter. The helicopter has a state of the art, integrated mission system, and an extensive array of on-board sensors. These not only give Merlin an independent capability to search for, locate and attack submarine targets, but can also be used to detect ships and provide targeting information for attack by other units. The Type 23 frigate's anti-ship capability is provided by the Harpoon anti-ship missile, the Sea Skua missile fitted to its Lynx helicopter, the 4.5" Mk8 gun, and twin 30mm guns. It is planned that the Type 45 destroyer's anti-ship capability would be provided by the Sea Skua missile, fitted to its Lynx helicopter, together with the ship's medium range gunnery system, the 4.5" Mk8 Mod 1 gun and twin 30mm guns. The Type 45 was designed to facilitate the incremental incorporation of additional capabilities, and as such allows for the fitting of a surface to surface guided missile, should the requirement for one be demonstrated.

With the Lynx helicopter which carries it, just weeks away from being retired, on 02 March 2017 the missiles were launched for the final time in the middle of the Atlantic as HMS Portland let rip - only the third time this century live Sea Skuas have been fired. It took a day's preparation to ready the helicopter and three missiles (a Lynx can actually carry four) for the final firing as the frigate which has been the Lynx's home for the past eight months headed north from the Azores. Only one of the sailors responsible for maintaining the helicopter or looking after its weaponry had ever fully tooled a Lynx up before. When they were finished, Portland launched her giant inflatable 'killer tomato' target - typically used for gunnery practice.

Lifting off at near maximum weight, with enough fuel for a sortie of just 70 minutes, most of which was spent scouring the Atlantic to make sure there wasn't slightest chance of hitting a merchant vessel, while the team in HMS Portland's operations checked their radars and sensors to make sure the skies over the range were free of other aircraft. Of the three missiles fired, not one hit home - deliberately. The missiles were set to skim over the top of their target - allowing Portland's gunners the chance to hone their skills Sea Skua ended its service as its not compatible with the Lynx's successor, Wildcat. The latter will receive two new replacements for Sea Skua: the heavy anti-ship missile Sea Venom, and the smaller Martlett to be used against RIBs and small boats.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:05:13 ZULU