Air-Launched Weapons

UK considers options for possible off-the-shelf Harpoon replacement

26 July 2018
The GWS60 Harpoon is due to be retired from RN service in 2023. Source: Royal Navy

The United Kingdom may look to acquire an off-the-shelf surface-to-surface guided weapon (SSGW) to bridge the gap between the retirement of Harpoon and the planned introduction of a Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon (FC/ASW).

Providing evidence on 11 July to the joint UK House of Commons Defence Committee/French National Assembly inquiry for the FC/ASW programme, senior Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials confirmed that market survey activity was already under way.

All 13 Royal Navy (RN) Type 23 frigates and three out of six Type 45 destroyers are fitted with the GWS 60/Harpoon Block 1C SSGW. The system, procured in the 1980s under Staff Requirement (Sea) 6548, had originally been planned to retire at the end of 2018, but the life of the weapon has now been extended to 2023.

Intended to enter service in the 2030 timeframe, the FC/ASW is currently the subject of a three-year concept phase activity, jointly funded by the French and UK governments, being led by MBDA. The United Kingdom is in parallel looking at several off-the-shelf options as part of the concept phase to be informed of other potential solutions.

Giving evidence to the joint committee hearing, Defence Equipment and Support Chief Executive Simon Bollom said that any further Harpoon life extension would be difficult. “The biggest challenges with this weapons system are the energetics, the propulsion system, and the warhead,” he said. “Here we come to difficult issues with finite lives and, clearly, its chemical compounds. Our assessment at this stage is that going beyond 2023 would be a challenge.”

According to Lieutenant General Mark Poffley, deputy chief of the Defence Staff (Military Capability), a new SSGW has assumed a higher priority inside the equipment programme. “We know we would like a surface-to-surface weapon. We have got some choices to make about where it might come from, and we know there is a lot of pressure on the rest of the budget.

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