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New Naval Surface-to-Air Missile RIM-7 Enhances Maritime Defense Capabilities Amid Evolving Threats

The Sea Sparrow missile was launched from the Yang Manchun ship. Photo provided by the Navy

The RIM-7 Sea Sparrow is a ship-based anti-aircraft weapon system designed to defend against enemy missiles from both land and sea. Developed by the United States, it is a short-range naval surface-to-air missile with a range of 6.2 to 12.4 miles and a naval launch version of the AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile. It is used with close-in weapon systems (CIWS) like the “Goal Keeper” mounted on Aegis ships to defend the ship itself.

The RIM-7P Sea Sparrow is a modification for ship use of the Sparrow-Ⅲ air-to-air missile developed by Raytheon and was first operationally deployed to the U.S. Navy in 1973.

It uses a semi-active radar homing guidance system. It is a strengthened model with enhanced interception capabilities by skimming the sea surface against enemy missiles attacking the ship.

The South Korean Navy operates the “Mk48 mod2” vertical launch system (VLS) installed on the Gwanggaeto, the Great-class destroyer (displacement 3900 tons) and equipped with Sea Sparrow missiles.

The Navy tested the Sea Sparrow missile from the Gwanggaeto, the Great-class destroyer in the waters off Daecheon, Chungnam, on May 28, 1999, after introducing it in 1998. At that time, the Sea Sparrow missile RIM-7P was fired and hit a virtual target hanging on an unmanned target towing aircraft 6.2 miles away. The Sea Sparrow was the Navy’s first naval surface-to-air missile, and that day’s shooting was recorded as the first live-fire of a naval surface-to-air missile.

Resource: Defense Daily

The specifications of the Sea Sparrow missile show that it has a length of 11.94 feet, a diameter of 7.99 inches, a wingspan of 3.28 feet, a weight of 509 lbs, and a speed of Mach 1.3. The range is about 9.32 to 12.4 miles. The warhead is a 40 kg (88 lb) blast fragmentation type.

The ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile) is an evolved version of the RIM-7P. The ESSM has a more powerful rocket booster than the existing RIM-7P, and four missiles fit into a single Mk41 VLS launcher.

However, the operation or development status of naval surface-to-air guided weapons is changing in various ways due to changes in modern battlefields. Development is underway in short-range, medium, and high-altitude and tactical ballistic missile defense.

Latest Naval Surface-to-air Missiles, Minimum Range of 24.85 miles

From the 1970s to the 1980s, military powers developed weapons such as RAM (USA), Naval Crotale (France), Seawolf (UK), and SA-N-series (Russia) and have since been improving their performance without developing new weapon systems.

Since the 1990s, they have been improved to enhance the ability to respond to anti-ship missiles and are being upgraded to the SAAM (Surface-to-Air Anti-Missile) system.

For this reason, naval air missiles are being made medium-range to secure a minimum combat distance of 24.85 miles to get as many combat opportunities as possible. China has equipped the Type 054A destroyer, which it mass-produces, with 32 HQ-16 naval surface-to-air missiles ranging from 24.85 miles. Japan has replaced the existing RIM-7 Sea Sparrow (range 11.18 miles) with the newer RIM-162 ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile).

The “RIM-162” Sea Sparrow naval surface-to-air missile was launched from an American aircraft carrier.

The South Korean Navy operates a naval surface-to-air missile called K-SAAM, which South Korea developed. It is a medium-range naval surface-to-air missile that can simultaneously respond to various targets, such as aircraft and surface ships, and enemy anti-ship missiles coming toward the ship. It was developed domestically to replace the similar foreign-imported weapon system, the RIM-116 RAM missile.

It has a dual-mode seeker with high-frequency and infrared imaging sensors to operate in varying maritime environments and all-weather conditions. Four missiles are mounted on each of the four vertical launch systems, for 16. Defending the ship by simultaneous combat in all directions, regardless of the ship’s maneuvering and target location, is possible.

Due to its high maneuverability and quick response time, it has the advantage of simultaneously responding to threats from various targets, such as anti-ship missiles, aircraft, and high-speed maneuvering ships. Sixteen missiles are mounted on the four-cell vertical launch systems of the Daegu-class escort ship and the Dokdo-class large transport ship Marado. It is 10.07 feet long and has a maximum range of 12.4 miles. The speed is Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound).

Aegis Ship’s “Shield”… Introduction of SM-6 Interceptor Missile

However, there are criticisms of its short range and weak firepower. In particular, there is a need for the Navy for a defensive interceptor missile equipped with an actual shield function for the Aegis destroyer, which is called “God’s Shield” but does not have a missile interception function. Therefore, the South Korean military has embarked on a journey to introduce the SM-6 naval air interceptor missile.

The SM-6 naval surface-to-air interceptor missile, known as the Patriot of the Sea, has an interception altitude of around 21.75 miles and a maximum range of 248.5 miles. Last year, the United States tentatively approved the overseas sale of the SM-6 missile requested by South Korea for sale, and it is expected to be introduced soon. The introduction cost of the quantity proposed by our government is more than $636 million.

The missile costs millions of dollars each, and the introduction is expected to be around 2025 when the new next-generation Aegis destroyer, King Jeongjo, is deployed in actual combat.

The advantage of the SM-6 missile is that it can intercept all aircraft, hypersonic missiles, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles. However, there are criticisms that it is limited in intercepting missiles flying over the ground because the interception altitude is low. However, land-based Patriots and domestic M-SAM and L-SAM interceptors are considered the best defense systems for defending ships and stopping attacks on infrastructure such as nuclear power plants along the coast.

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