French, Italian & British navies each fire Aster 30 missiles during NATO exercise

According to a PR published by MBDA on June 29, 2023, exercise Formidable Shield saw four successful Aster firings conducted by the Royal Navy, French Navy and Italian Navy against supersonic and subsonic sea skimming and manoeuvring targets.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 French FREMM frigate Bretagne launching Aster 30 missile. (Picture source: Dvids)

Formidable Shield is conducted from the UK’s Hebrides live firing range and is designed to test the Alliance’s Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) capabilities, being its main such exercise in Europe.

The exercise saw 13 NATO allies and 20 NATO warships co-operate to test their integrated air defence capabilities against a range of challenging scenarios, with Aster successfully conducting single-shot kills against all targets.

During the exercise, Italian Navy frigate “Margottini” successfully fired an Aster 30 against a Coyote GQM-163A supersonic target and an Aster 15 against a Firejet target.

Meanwhile, French Navy frigate “Bretagne” fired an Aster 30 against a Coyote GQM-163A supersonic target and Royal Navy destroyer “HMS Defender” successfully conducted an Aster 30 firing against a Firejet.

Aster missiles

The Franco-Italian duo of Aster 15 and Aster 30 stands as an exceptional family of vertically launched, all-weather surface-to-air missiles. Aster missiles' core purpose is to intercept and obliterate a diverse range of air threats.

From high-performance combat aircraft, UAVs, and helicopters to cruise, anti-radiation, and even sea-skimming supersonic anti-ship missiles, the Aster's mission is vast. Moreover, the Aster 30 Block 1 and Block 1 NT are specifically engineered to counter ballistic missiles.

The Aster is outfitted on Horizon-class frigates in French and Italian service, as well as the British Type 45 destroyers. French and Italian FREMM multipurpose frigates also utilize the Aster.

Coyote GQM-163A

The GQM-163A, also known as the Supersonic Sea Skimming Target (SSST), is an ultra-fast, ground-launched, aerial target system that's incapable of recovery.

It flaunts a remarkable ability to achieve speeds exceeding Mach 2. This system serves a dual purpose: as a sea-skimming target operating between altitudes of 13 to 66 feet, or as a diving target with a maximum reach of 52,000 feet and diving angles between 15 and 55 degrees. Additionally, the SSST system is designed to integrate smoothly with existing augmentation, scoring, and range hardware.

When it comes to its dimensions, the SSST exhibits a diameter of 13.8 inches and weighs between 1668 and 1740 lbs. Its speed capabilities shift depending on the nature of the mission.

For sea-skimming missions, it can maintain a cruising speed of Mach 2.6 at an altitude of 50 feet, accelerating to the same Mach speed for its terminal phase at 13 feet. In contrast, during diving operations, it cruises at an impressive Mach 3.8 at an altitude of 52,000 feet, and its terminal speed can range between Mach 0.7 and 3.0 at 1000 feet.

The SSST's operational range is also mission-dependent. For sea-skimming exercises, it can cover a total of 45 nautical miles - 35 during cruise and an additional 10 during the terminal phase. For diving missions, it boasts a range of 119 nautical miles.