On display here and ready for export, Europe’s own state-of-the-art air defense system has now demonstrated its anti-tactical ballistic missile (TBM) capability three times. In the most recent test two months ago, the MBDA Aster 30 missile successfully intercepted a target representing a TBM fired from 185 miles away. Unlike the first two anti-TBM tests, this one was fully coordinated within the NATO command-and-control structure.
The ground-air medium-range missile system is awkwardly known by its French acronym SAMP/T. It is designed to protect deployed troop and vital fixed assets. It is produced by Eurosam, a joint venture between MBDA France and Italy (66 percent) and Thales (33 percent). It went operational with the French army and air force and Italian army in 2011. There have been 13 test firings in all–each one successful. (A further 10 firings of the Aster 15 missile have been made from ships–naval defense was the first application that Eurosam provided.)
“We’re now promoting SAMP/T to some countries,” said Alain Deudon, the SAMP/T project manager. He noted that the system can be adapted to work with a variety of long-range radars, that might already be in service with a customer. Moreover, he claimed, “We have a very flexible integration to C2I systems…whether NATO’s ACCS, the French CDC, or whatever.”
In French and Italian service, each fully-mobile SAMP/T system comprises one Thales Arabel multifunction radar and IFF, one engagement module (for example, the control van) and four vertical launchers each containing eight Aster 30 missiles. A further two trucks carry missile reloading modules. The engagement can occur throughout 360 degrees; the radar antenna spins at 60 rpm and is “very difficult to detect and jam,” according to Deudon. The radar can monitor more than 100 tracks at a time.
Two launchers can each fire two missiles simultaneously, in 0.5 seconds. The range varies from 15 km (9.3 miles) against ballistic and anti-radiation missiles, out to 120 km (75 miles) for larger, slower aircraft. The launchers can be situated up to 25 km (15 miles) from the radar van, thanks to modern frequency-hopping VHF radios. The detection range when using a Thales GM400 long-range radar is 300 to 400 km (185 to 250 miles).
The Aster 30 missile can reach Mach 4.5 within 2.5 seconds and is highly maneuverable thanks to a combination of aerodynamic and thrust controls. The radar beam steers the missile electronically in elevation and azimuth; its active radar seeker was originally designed to defeat stealthy cruise missiles in a look-down, shoot-down scenario. The last stage of the missile is a ramjet. Although direct hits are not essential to achieve a “kill,” 70 percent of the test firings have done so.
The recent anti-TBM test was conducted on the Biscarosse range off the French west coast. Two firing sections were deployed by a joint French air force/Italian army team. A fully NATO-compliant Link 16 (MIDS) communications architecture was employed, stretching back to the headquarters in Ramstein, Germany. As Deudon noted, the system offers all the required links and IFF modes. “We are set to declare TBM capability later this year,” he said.