Surface Forces: Defenseless Destroyers Curse The French


June 9, 2010: Britain recently commissioned the second of its Type 45 class destroyers; HMS Dauntless. These two 8,100 ton ships are, unfortunately, defenseless against air attack. That's because the Sea Viper air defense system has continued to fail its acceptance tests. The latest failure was last December, after which defects were detected in the French made Aster 30 missiles that Sea Viper uses (along with a British made radar). There have also been problems with the command and control system, which relies on the Windows 2000 operating system.

The first Type 45, which entered service eleven months ago, has spent that time training, and waiting for Sea Viper to get fixed. The Aster 30 is a 4.8 meter/15 foot long, 445 kg/979 pound, two stage missile that can hit targets as high as 21,000 meters/66,000 feet and 100 kilometers away. Development of the Aster 30 began in 1990, and it was accepted for service in 2000. A shorter range (20 kilometers) version, the Aster 15, is also available. Both missiles can be launched from the 48 VLS (Vertical Launch Tubes) on each Type 45 ship. Sea Viper is also supposed to be able to hit supersonic anti-ship missiles, although no tests of this capability are planned.

Also known as the D, or Daring class, these ships have a top speed of 53 kilometers per hour, and are also armed with a 114mm (4.5 inch) gun and two 30mm autocannon. A helicopter (Lynx or Merlin) can also be carried, and the helicopter can carry four anti-ship missiles, or two anti-submarines torpedoes. There is space on board the ship for two quad launchers for Harpoon anti-ship missiles, but none are currently installed.

Twelve of these ships were originally planned, but that was cut to eight in 2004, and then to six a few years later. The lead ship, HMS Daring, was to enter service in 2007, with all ships in service by 2014. But Daring was delayed two years, and all ships should be in service within 5-6 years. The Type 45 was to be more similar to the American Burke class destroyers, than to the somewhat smaller frigates (as they call them) other European nations favor.

These ships are replacing the remaining six Sheffield class (also known as the Type 42) destroyers. These entered service between 1975-85. There were originally fourteen Type 42s, but HMS Sheffield and HMS Coventry were lost in action during the 1982 Falklands War, and HMS Birmingham was decommissioned in 1999. The other five were decommissioned since 2004. The Type 42 were built in two batches (4,350 to 5,350 tons), but all were armed with a 114mm gun, a launcher for the 22 Sea Dart surface-to-air missiles (range of 64 kilometers), and four 20mm autocannon. The last four Type 42s also had two Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems, which give these ships better defense against incoming anti-ship missiles. One such missile sank the Sheffield in 1982. Type 42s could carry a single Lynx helicopter, and had a crew of 312 (compared to 190 on the larger, and more automated, Type 45s.).

The Type 45 began as part of the Horizon Project. This was a cooperative effort by France, Italy and Britain to design and build a new class of destroyers. Britain initially agreed to buy twelve of the projected twenty ships. Then the Italians and French cut back their orders, and there were increasing disagreements over the ship design. So in 1999, Britain left the program, and went ahead with its own Type 45 design.






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