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Work starts on decade-long £405m revamp for Sea Viper

22 January 2024
The Navy’s now-combat-proven first line of defence against air attack – Sea Viper – is to begin a near-decade-long revamp to enhance its ability to cope with the latest threats.

The MOD has confirmed a £405m upgrade for the missile system – fired on several occasions over the past six weeks by HMS Diamond while protecting Red Sea shipping.

The enhancements cover three contracts with the missile system’s manufacturer, MBDA UK: two to significantly enhance Sea Viper on board Diamond and her five sisters, a third to cover enhanced in-service support and availability of the system for the next five years.

In service for more than a decade, Sea Viper – the name covers the entire weapons system, including two radars, the command system and the Aster missile which is Viper’s ‘bite’ – can currently track hundreds of potential threats to an individual ship or task group at ranges up to 250 miles, and eliminate them when they close to around 70 miles.

The first phase of the revamp will be to upgrade the Aster 30 missile (standing 16ft tall and weighing nearly ½ tonne, yet capable of speeds in excess of Mach 3) to allow it to intercept the latest anti-ship ballistic missile threats, and will also see the Sampson multi-function radar (the ‘spiky egg’ spinning atop the main mast), Command and Control system and Combat Management System.

The next stage of what is termed ‘the Sea Viper evolution’ will evaluate the introduction of the new Aster 30 Block 1NT missile, currently under development with France and Italy. It features a new seeker to improve the existing ballistic missile defence capabilities of Type 45 destroyers.  

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps announced the programme of upgrades at the weekend following a visit to HMS Diamond in the Red Sea to thank the ship’s company for their ongoing efforts and learn first-hand from crew about their successful actions downing Houthi drones.

The work on Sea Viper will sustain 350 UK jobs, notably highly-skilled technology roles in Stevenage, Cowes, Bristol and Bolton, and will also involve employees from MBDA across the UK, France and Italy working alongside colleagues from BAE Systems.

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