Published 21 January 2024

Share this story

Cutting-edge Royal Navy missiles – recently used to shoot down multiple hostile drones in the Red Sea – will receive significant enhancements through an upgrade programme supporting hundreds of UK jobs, the Defence Secretary has announced.

Crucial to defend sailors, surface fleet and air threats, the Sea Viper Air Defence system will be upgraded with updated missiles featuring a new warhead and software update that will enable it to defeat ballistic missile threats. The system will protect the UK’s Carrier Strike group and can track, target and destroy a variety of air threats over 70 miles away.

Worth £405 million, the contracts will make Sea Viper the most capable naval air defence system ever developed for the Royal Navy, investing in vital capability used in recent weeks to protect one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes from multiple drone attacks.

The missile upgrades comprise three contracts awarded to MBDA UK, including two to significantly enhance the Sea Viper capability on board Type 45 warships, and a third to cover enhanced in-service support and availability of the system for the next five years.

By further investing in our world-leading defence industry, the contracts will also support the Prime Minister’s priority to grow the economy by sustaining 350 UK jobs, including highly skilled technology roles in Stevenage, Cowes, Bristol & Bolton.

The work will include employees from MBDA across the UK, France and Italy working alongside colleagues from BAE Systems.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said:

“As the situation in the Middle East worsens, it is vital that we adapt to keep the UK, our allies and partners safe. Sea Viper has been at the forefront of this, being the Navy’s weapon of choice in the first shooting down of an aerial threat in more than 30 years.

“Our strong and enduring relationship with British industry has ensured we can deploy the latest technological capabilities wherever they are required while supporting hundreds of jobs across the country and bolstering UK prosperity.”

The Royal Navy’s Type 45 destroyers are among the most advanced in the fleet and carry out a range of activity, including defence from air attack, counter-piracy operations and providing humanitarian aid.

Defence Secretary, Grant Shapps this week visited HMS Diamond in the Red Sea, where it recently used Sea Viper missiles to shoot down multiple attack drones, as part of the US-led international taskforce Operation Prosperity Guardian.

Alongside HMS Diamond, the taskforce currently includes three US destroyers, and a French warship is also in the region. All are currently operating in the Southern Red Sea with the multinational partnership focusing on protecting freedom of navigation, international trade and human life by countering illicit non-state actors in international waters.

Rear Admiral Anthony Rimington, Director Force Generation said:

“A cutting-edge weapon system, Sea Viper continues to provide the Royal Navy with impressive lethality. Sea Viper Evolution further enhances this capability against the more complex and evolving threats and strengthens our cooperation and interoperability with key partners.”

The Sea Viper enhancements aim to deliver Ballistic Missile Defence Capability to counter more complex threats, while providing an opportunity for further upgrades and increased capability to be taken forward into future systems.

The initial stage of the contract will upgrade the Royal Navy’s existing Aster 30 missiles to Aster 30 Block 1, which will enable defence against anti-ship ballistic missile threats, and will see modifications to the fleet’s Multi-Function Radar (Sampson), Command and Control system and Combat Management System.

The subsequent stage of 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 that would even further enhance the ballistic missile defence capabilities of the UK’s Type 45 destroyers.

Vice Admiral Paul Marshall, Director General Ships at Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), the procurement arm of the UK MOD, said:

“In a rapidly changing defence environment, I’m proud to see our teams work collaboratively with industry colleagues to support highly-skilled jobs and ensure those operating the UK Type 45 fleet have the edge over their adversaries now and in the future.”

Chris Allam, Managing Director of MBDA UK, said:

“These contracts will make Sea Viper the most capable naval air defence system ever developed for the Royal Navy in our 60-year history as the Navy’s primary air defence system supplier.

“They will also see the UK further enhance the co-operation with France and Italy through MBDA by joining the Aster 30 Block 1 programme, giving the UK the ability to defeat anti-ship ballistic missiles.”

The enhancements to the fleet of Type 45 destroyers are expected to reach full operational capability by Autumn 2032.