The Type 45 Destroyer is the Royal Navy’s primary Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) vessel. Other than the propulsion issues discussed in depth elsewhere, this article documents what has already been done to upgrade the class and the potential improvements to be applied later in their service lives.
When the first in class, HMS Daring, was launched in 2006 she was seen as being amongst the most advanced warships ever built, boasting the capable Sampson radar and Aster missile system to counter air threats that were proven deadly during the Falklands War and other conflicts. Despite being world-class when entering service, as time passes, systems are at risk of obsolescence following a lack of investment and development post-commissioning. The Type 45s have now been in service for an average of more than 10 years and there is a need for updates to weapons, sensors and defensive systems to keep pace with evolving threats.
Sea Viper evolution (SV-E)
SV-E is the term now given to the intended upgrades to the Type 45’s Sea Viper air defence system. This involves upgrades to the radar, missiles and C2 system with a focus on Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Defence (ASBMD).
While it was only recently that the term ‘Sea Viper Evolution’ became public in a Government response to a UK Parliament Defence Committee report, ASBMD has been a long-standing aspiration of the Royal Navy as ASBMs become as prevalent as the conventional cruise missiles Sea Viper was designed to counter.
The now fully funded Sea Viper Evolution (SV-E) Capability 1 will see the Type 45’s current Aster 30 ‘block 0’ missiles retrofitted to block 1 standard at the Munition Maintenance Installation Facility at Gosport. This involves new guidance software and electronics to enable the interception of ballistic missiles and a new dual AAW/BMD warhead to enhance the probability of Kill (pK) upon intercept. It will also either see the shorter range Aster 15 missiles discarded or upgraded to Aster 30 B1 standard by replacing the first stage booster (currently the only difference between Aster 15 and 30). The gap in very short range (1.5-3km) engagement envelope created by eliminating Aster 15 will be filled by the addition of 24 Sea Ceptor missiles in the space originally left for 16 strike-length VLS (Vertical Launch System) cells.
This enables the Type 45 to engage Short Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBMs) of the ~600km range class over an entire 360° Local Area Defence (LAD) zone and greatly increase overall magazine capacity.
SV-E Cap 1 also includes an upgrade to Sea Viper’s primary sensor, the Sampson Multi-Function Radar (MFR), which will undergo major obsolescence management and a significant upgrade to facilitate the growing ASBMD capability requirement.
As part of a preliminary design and risk reduction programme, an initial ASBMD capability was proposed for Sampson to work with Aster block 1 to provide 360° LAD against SRBMs for SV-E Cap 1. SV-E Cap 2 is currently exploring the funding of the Aster Block 1NT missile to provide a more focused ASBMD capability against larger, longer-ranged and faster ballistic threats. Block 1NT would introduce a new, higher frequency radar seeker which performs better against ballistic missiles with Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs). This would require Sampson to operate in a sectored air defence mode.
Sampson uses, in essence, two separate AESA radars mounted back to back in a near-spherical radome. It is claimed possible for just one of these two radar arrays to fulfil almost all conventional AAW duties (providing a great deal of redundancy if nothing else), meaning a significant portion of available radar resources can be dedicated to BMD.
Sampson has tested experimental software over the past decade which has demonstrated the use of dedicated sectored air defence zones (usually a ‘fence’ or a wedge of extended coverage wide in azimuth but narrow in elevation), where the radar would utilise greater dwell times (spending a longer time ‘looking’ at a particular area) in order to increase range and fidelity. By designating a portion of the available scanning area as a higher level of threat, detection and engagement ranges can be extended, particularly when used in tandem with Aster Block 1NT on top of conventional 360° LAD protection.
Sea Viper Evolution Capability 1 is a welcome and long-expected upgrade and Capability 2 should similarly be funded with a certain degree of urgency.
The Type 45’s Volume Search Radar (VSR), S1850M, is an L-band search radar that sacrifices the accuracy of Sampson for output power and range. This supplements Sampson by building a broad, long-range radar picture and alleviating Sampson’s volume search requirements. S1850M is developed from the Dutch SMART-L, using the same front antenna but a new ‘back-end’ with a new signal processor from Alenia Marconi Systems and other technology from the Marconi Martello S723 land-based radar.
The original SMART-L has seen development by the Netherlands to an entirely actively scanned system with a new front-end antenna and a particular focus on long-range ballistic missile defence. The UK could benefit from and incorporate this new development for their own ships, or explore in-house options like BAE’s Commander MFR or EWACS radars.
Directed energy weapons
The Type 45’s propulsion problems are well documented in previous articles. Ultimately, the Power Improvement Project (PIP) will see the current 2MW Wärtsilä diesel generators replaced with 3 more powerful MTU Series 4000 generators, greatly increasing the total potential electrical power that can be generated. Whilst the focus of this upgrade is to amend the propulsion system’s faults, the additional power for the ship’s Integrated Electric Propulsion (IEP) architecture, may also facilitate the installation of Directed Energy Weapons (DEW).
The power density of DEWs can vary greatly and consequently so can their effectiveness and ideal use cases. Lower power lasers, such as the American 60kW HELIOS, are used to down small drones and dazzle optical sensors whereas future higher power systems will look to completely destroy incoming missiles and other threats.
The UK has two major shipborne laser programs, the first of which contracts a Thales-led consortium to test a low power laser dazzler on a Type 23 frigate next year. The other, Dragonfire, is a more ambitious programme that intends to produce a much higher power laser system and, it is assumed, develop the UK’s high power laser industrial base and collective knowledge, involving a much larger group of partners.
Installing the Dragonfire laser (or resultant systems) on the Type 45s would improve their defensive capability against simple but numerous targets which would quickly exhaust the ship’s defensive missile systems, a role currently delegated to the ageing Phalanx gun-based system.
Cooperative engagement capability
Originally, the Type 45 was to be a class of 12 ships. Budget shortfalls led to the class being reduced to 8, then 6 ships with the loss in capability supposedly to be offset by planned improved networking capability.
This improved networking capability was part of a wider enhanced datalink and real-time communications scheme known as Networked Enabled Capability (NEC). NEC is described as the coherent integration of sensors, decision-makers and weapons systems in a manner that allows for rapid information sharing, reduced decision-making times and precise targeting.
Within NEC was an initiative to fit the Type 45s with an advanced, real-time information sharing capability and was the primary ‘justification’ to cut the number of ships from 12 to 8. Ultimately, it was decided the class were to be fitted with the American Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC). This would have enabled higher-data rate sharing of raw radar information and engagement-ready target tracks, improving the survivability and adaptability of any surface group.
A forerunner CEC system was installed on HMS Manchester, a Type 42 Destroyer, in 2005 and later 4 CEC Planar Array Antennas were fitted above the R-ESM receivers of HMS Duncan as the programme developed, seemingly close to being accepted into class-wide service. However, the option to cancel all CEC developments was taken in 2012, another consequence of the lack of funds following SDSR 2010.
However, the US has continued to develop their CEC capability and it, or similar systems, have been adopted by many other nations. It would be more than sensible for the UK to reverse their decision and adopt CEC to both improve the effectiveness of the Type 45 and improve interoperability with other assets, playing to each other’s strengths where available.
Electronic support measures
The ongoing electronic support measures upgrades are twofold: improvements to the Radar Electronic Support Measures (R-ESM) and Communications Electronic Support Measures (C-ESM).
R-ESM receivers are wideband passive receivers that detect and locate the source of incoming microwave signals emitted by enemy radar. These are crucial to advancing the ship’s situational awareness, particularly under restrictive EMissions CONtrol (EMCON) procedures where the ship’s own emitted signals are greatly, if not entirely reduced.
The Type 45s were fitted from launch with Outfit UAT(1) R-ESM receivers, a development of Racal (now Thales)’s Sceptre XL system and using 8 acquisition antennas of their Cutlass system. This system was originally developed for the Type 23 frigates and was already more than 10 years old.
The UAT Mod 2 programme was an initiative to refresh the antennas used in the UAT Mod 1 system with new, digital wideband receivers covering the 2-18Ghz frequency range. These new UAT Mod 2.1 antennas have now been fitted to the entire Type 45 fleet and to the Type 23s and other vessels (as Mod 2.3).
These antenna upgrades will improve receiver performance but are only a stop-gap solution. An entire R-ESM overhaul is being implemented as part of a wider Electronic Warfare (EW) upgrade initiative, through Increment 1 of the Maritime Electronic Warfare System Integrated Capability (MEWSIC) project. In November 2021 a £100 million contract was awarded to a Babcock-led partnership with Elbit Systems UK and QinetiQ to upgrade and replace the current R-ESM and EW Command and Control (C2) systems.
Communications Electronic Support Measures, like R-ESM, involve passive receivers which detect unknown electromagnetic signals. However, C-ESM primarily focuses on the lower frequencies used by long-range communications (<1Ghz) and their purpose is to decrypt them for intelligence gathering (SIGnals INTelligence (SIGINT)).
The C-ESM equipment has currently been retrofitted to 4 of the Type 45s (Daring, Dauntless, Defender and Duncan). Known as Shaman in the UK, this is derived from the US AN/SSQ-130(V) Shipboard Signals Exploitation Equipment (SSEE) Increment F. This included the installation of AS-4293A acquisition antennas, AS-4692 UHF/VHF direction-finding antennas, AS-3202 HF freeboard antennas and below-decks cryptology equipment. This provides a modern SIGINT capability with the option to easily update equipment as the US develops their own upgrades.
Soft-kill defences are those which do not use physical interceptors (bullets, missiles) to defend the ship but other methods of non-kinetic deception and distraction. As part of the Maritime Electronic Warfare Programme, specifically the Electronic Warfare Countermeasures Project, the MoD is beginning to overhaul the Royal Navy’s soft kill and electronic countermeasures.
The Type 45 is outfitted with a suite of soft-kill defences, including the passive radar reflector Outfit DLF and launchable infrared and radar countermeasures system Outfit DLH. However, these are similarly showing their age and thus there are plans to replace them.
Outfit DLF is to be replaced by the Naval Passive Off-Board Decoy (N-POD) by 2025. Very little is known about the system, although it is without a doubt that the system will need to more closely reflect the radar return of the ship it is expelled from as anti-ship missile radar seekers become more advanced and are able to detect and classify individual ship types (rather than simply homing in on the strongest radar return).
The UK has also been working with France on a new active radar decoy under the project ACCOLADE. Developed by Thales, this system has yet to be procured by the MoD but would be a sensible option to fulfil part of the Electronic Warfare Countermeasures Project.