The French Navy aims at improving the close range protection of its main surface combatants (known as first rank frigates in the French Navy: The Horizon air defense destroyers, the FREMM frigates and, down the road, the FDI frigate).
Such vessels are vulnerable from asymmetric threats in specific shoke points (such as Suez canal or Bab al-Mandab strait, for example. For the record, in early 2017, a Houthi unmanned surface vessel (USV) loaded with explosives successfully hit a Royal Saudi Navy at high speed, killing two sailors and injuring sevel others.
MBDA believes its new MMP missile, pitched as a 5th generation ground combat missile, could be the right protection against such emerging threats, especially at very close range (our source mentions less than 1 Km engagement). MBDA started actively showcasing the MMP for naval application earlier this year, as Naval News reported from IMDEX Asia, the naval tradeshow held in Singapore.
An operational evaluation campaign was carried out in the summer of 2018 by the French naval special forces in Djibouti. The campaign confirmed the reliability and operational performance of the MMP system in a hot environment, both from the ground and also from a rigid hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) moving at high speed.
A total of nine MMP missiles were fired with all reaching their target. Two of these shots were fired by the maritime force of marines and commandos from a ECUME RHIB. A first firing from the sea-to- land and the second from sea-to-sea have demonstrated the ease of use of the MMP.
The feasibility study which is set to start in early 2020 should take about 3 months and will help assess a number of parameters such as (for example):
- Where on the frigates, should the launcher be placed ?
- Where should the missiles be stored inside the vessels ?
- How many crew members (likely FORFUSCO / VBSS teams) should be trained with the MMP ?
- In which conditions would the MMP be fired from a frigate (sea state, speed etc…)
A remotely operated (quad-launcher turreted variant) MMP launcher exists, however our source explained that the potential need was for an affordable solution, therefore a manned launcher.
One solution could be to use the existing gun mounts (for 12.7mm and FN MAG 7.62mm machine guns) positions already present aboard the frigates (or potentially add new ones). This solution was used for the MMP trials from the ECUME RHIB: a simple adapter was created by MBDA engineers in order to make the existing MMP launcher compatible with the gun mount pole already installed aboard the ECUME.
While MMP has an instrumented range of 4 Km (limited by the length of its fiber optic used for man in the loop guidance), the missile already demonstrated a range of 5 Km in fire and forget mode. Our source explained that this range could be further increased (by up to two folds) in coming years which could be interesting for Navy customers globally, in the future. But for now, the French Navy’s interest is exclusively for a very close range solution against asymmetric surface targets.