Sea Dart

Sea Dart or GWS30[Note 1] was a British surface-to-air missile system designed by Hawker Siddeley Dynamics in the 1960s, entering service in 1973. It was fitted to the Type 42 destroyers (United Kingdom and Argentina), Type 82 destroyer and Invincible-class aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy.

Sea Dart
Sea Dart drill missiles on HMS Edinburgh in 2012
TypeSurface-to-air, surface-to-surface
Place of originUnited Kingdom
Service history
In service1973 – 2012
Used bySee operators
WarsFalklands War
Gulf 1991
Production history
DesignerHawker Siddeley Dynamics
ManufacturerHawker Siddeley Dynamics (1963–1977)
BAe Dynamics (1977–1999)
MBDA (UK) Ltd (since 1999)
No. built2,000+
Mass550 kg (1,210 lb)
Length4.4 m (14 ft)
Diameter0.42 m (17 in)
Warhead11 kg (24 lb) HE. Blast-fragmentation
Proximity fuze and contact

EngineChow solid-fuel booster motor
Bristol Siddeley Odin ramjet cruise motor
Wingspan0.9 m (3.0 ft)
Mod 0 (basic) 40 nmi (46 mi; 74 km)
Mod 2 (upgrade) 80 nmi (92 mi; 150 km)
Flight ceiling18,300 m (60,000 ft)[1]
SpeedMach 3.0+[2]
Semi-active radar illuminated by radar Type 909
control surfaces

The missile system had eight confirmed successful engagements in combat, including six aircraft, a helicopter and an anti-ship missile. An additional helicopter was shot down in a 'friendly fire' incident during the Falklands War.

Originally Hawker Siddeley, the missile was built by British Aerospace after 1977, and was withdrawn from service in 2012.


Sea Dart began as Hawker Siddeley project "CF.299", a weapon to replace the Royal Navy's first-generation long-range surface-to-air missile, Seaslug. It entered service in 1973 on the sole Type 82 destroyer HMS Bristol before widespread deployment on the Type 42 destroyer commencing with HMS Sheffield in 1976. The missile system was also fitted to Invincible-class aircraft carriers but was removed during refits in the 1998-2000 period to increase the area of the flight deck and below-decks stowage associated with the operation of Royal Air Force Harrier GR9 aircraft.


Sea Dart is a two-stage, 4.4-metre (14 ft) long missile weighing 550 kilograms (1,210 lb). It is launched using a drop-off Chow solid-fuel booster that accelerates it to the supersonic speed necessary for the operation of the cruise motor, a Rolls-Royce [Bristol Siddeley] kerosene-fuelled Odin ramjet. This gives a cruise speed of over Mach 2.5, and unlike many rocket-powered designs,the cruise engine burns for the entire flight, giving excellent terminal manoeuvrability at extreme range. It is capable of engaging targets out to at least 30 nautical miles (35 mi; 56 km) over a wide range of altitudes. It has a secondary capability against small surface vessels, tested against a Brave-class patrol boat, although in surface mode the warhead safety arming unit does not arm and thus damage inflicted is restricted to the physical impact of the half-ton missile body and the unspent proportion of the 46 litres (10 imp gal; 12 US gal) of kerosene fuel.

Guidance is by proportional navigation and a semi-active radar homing system using the nose intake cone and four aerials around the intake as an interferometer aerial, with targets being identified by a Type 1022 surveillance radar (originally radar Type 965) and illuminated by one of a pair of radar Type 909. This allows two targets to be engaged simultaneously in initial versions, with later variants (see below) able to engage more. Firing is from a twin-arm trainable launcher that is loaded automatically from below decks. The original launcher seen on the Bristol was significantly larger than that which appeared on the Type 42 and Invincible classes. Initial difficulties with launcher reliability have been resolved.

Combat service

Falklands War

Sea Dart was used during the Falklands War (1982) and is credited with seven confirmed kills (plus one British Aérospatiale Gazelle helicopter downed by friendly fire). Kills were made against a high-flying aircraft beyond the missile's stated technical envelope and low-flying attack aircraft.

The net effect of Sea Dart was to deny the higher altitudes to enemy aircraft. This was important because Argentine aircraft such as the Mirage III had better straight line performance than the Sea Harriers, which were unlikely to successfully intercept them.

The first Sea Dart kill was an Aérospatiale Puma, on 9 May 1982 near Stanley by HMS Coventry, with the loss of the three men aboard.

On 25 May 1982 an A-4C Skyhawk of Grupo 5 was shot down north of Pebble Island again by Coventry. The pilot, Capitán Hugo Angel del Valle Palaver was killed. Later, Coventry shot down another Skyhawk of Grupo 4 while it was returning from a mission to San Carlos Water. Capitán Jorge Osvaldo García successfully ejected but was not recovered. The next Argentine action that day sank Coventry. An unguided Sea Dart was launched in an effort to disrupt the attack but missed, and the destroyer was struck by two iron bombs and sank.

The same day a Super Étendard strike fighter sought to attack the British carrier group with Exocet missiles, but instead struck the cargo ship MV Atlantic Conveyor. Invincible fired six Sea Darts in less than two minutes, but all missed.

On 30 May 1982, during the last Exocet air attacks against the British fleet HMS Exeter shot down two Skyhawks (out of four attackers), despite them flying only 10–15 metres (33–49 ft) above the sea (theoretically below Sea Dart's minimum engagement altitude of 30 metres (98 ft)). On 6 June Exeter downed a Learjet 35A being used for reconnaissance at 12,000 metres (39,000 ft) altitude.

On 6 June 1982, Cardiff fired a Sea Dart missile at an aircraft believed to be an Argentine C-130 Hercules. The missile destroyed the aircraft, which was in fact a British Army helicopter. All four occupants were killed in this "friendly-fire" incident.

Finally, on 13 June 1982, a Canberra Mk.62 was flying at 12,000 metres (39,000 ft). While it was en route to bomb British troops near Port Harriet House, it was destroyed by a Sea Dart fired from Cardiff.[3]

In total at least eighteen missiles were launched by Type 42 destroyers, six by Invincible, and two by Bristol. Out of five missiles fired against helicopters or high flying aircraft, four were successful, but only two of nineteen fired at low level aircraft hit: just eleven percent; however a number of missiles were fired without guidance to deter low level attacks. Exeter's success can be partially attributed to being equipped with the Type 1022 radar, which was designed for the system and provided greater capability than the old Type 965 fitted to the earlier Type 42s.[4][5] The Type 965 was unable to cope with low level targets as it suffered multiple path crossings and targets became lost in radar clutter from the surface of the South Atlantic. This resulted in Sea Dart being unable to lock onto targets at distance obscured by land, or fast-moving low-level targets obscured in ground clutter or sea-returns.

The Argentine Navy was well aware of the Sea Dart's capabilities and limitations, having two Type 42s of its own. Consequently, Argentine planes, opting to fly below the Type 965 radar ("sea skimming"), frequently dropped bombs which failed to explode. The arming vane on the bomb had insufficient time to complete the number of revolutions required to arm the fuze, causing the fuze to remain in safe mode and not function on impact.

Persian Gulf War (1991)

In February 1991 during the Persian Gulf War the US battleship Missouri, escorted by HMS London (UK Flagship) plus Gloucester (carrying Sea Dart) and USS Jarrett (equipped with Phalanx CIWS), was engaged by an Iraqi Silkworm missile. The missile was intercepted and destroyed by a Sea Dart fired from Gloucester, the first time an anti-air missile had successfully engaged and destroyed an enemy missile during combat at sea. During the same engagement, Jarrett's Phalanx 20 mm CIWS was placed in autoengagement mode and targeted chaff launched by Missouri rather than the incoming missile.[6][7]


The Sea Dart was upgraded over the years - notably its electronics - as technology advanced. The following modification standards have been fielded:

  • Mod 0 — Basic 1960s version, used in the Falklands. valve technology. Range circa 40 nmi (46 mi; 74 km).
  • Mod 1 — Improved Sea Dart. Upgraded version 1983-1986. Updated guidance systems possibly allowing some capability against sea-skimming targets and much greater reliability.
  • Mod 2 — 1989-1991. Upgrade included ADIMP (Air Defence IMProvement) which saw the replacement of six old circuit cards in the guidance system with one, allowing the spare volume to be used for an autopilot. Used alongside a command datalink (sited on the Type 909 pedestal) it allows several missiles to be 'in the air' at once, re-targeted during flight etc. and allows an initial ballistic trajectory, doubling range to 80 nmi (92 mi; 150 km) with the upgraded 909(I) radar for terminal illumination only.
  • Mod 3 — Latest version with new infrared fuze. Delayed eight years from 1994 to 2002.

The Sea Dart Mark 2, GWS 31, (also known as Sea Dart II - not to be confused with Mod 2, above) development was cancelled in 1981. This was intended to allow 'off the rail' manoeuvres with additional controls added to the booster. The Mark 2 was reduced to Advanced Sea Dart, then Enhanced Sea Dart and finally Improved Sea Dart.

Lightweight Sea Dart was a version with minimal changes to the missile itself, but based in a new sealed box-launcher. A four-box trainable launcher was developed that allowed it to be mounted to ships as small as 300 tons displacement. The same box and launcher could also support the Sea Eagle SL, the proposed ship-launched version of Sea Eagle. Guardian was a proposed land-based system of radars, control stations and the Lightweight Sea Dart proposed in the 1980s for use as a land-based air defence system for the Falkland Islands. Neither system was put into production.[8]


The Sea Dart equipped Type 42s reached the end of their service lives, with all vessels already retired. They were replaced by the larger Type 45 which are armed with the Sea Viper missile system. Sea Viper is much more capable in the anti-air role but has no anti-surface capability. The first-of-class began sea trials in July 2007 and Daring entered service in 2009.[9]

On 13 April 2012 HMS Edinburgh fired the last ever operational Sea Dart missiles after a thirty-year career. The last two remaining Type 42s, York and Edinburgh completed their careers without the system being operational.[10]

A launcher with drill missiles has been preserved and is on display at Explosion! Museum of Naval Firepower, Gosport, Hampshire.


Former operators

  • Argentine Navy: Purchased 60 missiles for their two Type 42 destroyers but retired them in 1987 due to lack of spares.
 United Kingdom



  1. GWS stands for guided weapon system


  1. In Combat, page 229, 1991
  2. In Combat, page 229, 1991
  3. "Canberras of the Grupo 2 de Bombardeo: The Falklands Conflict". Retrieved 2010-02-01.
  4. "Type 42 Sheffield Class Guided Missile Destroyer".
  5. "The British Aerospace Sea Dart missile". Wingweb. Archived from the original on 2008-10-04.
  6. Lewis Page (27 November 2007). "New BAE destroyer launches today on the Clyde". The Register. Retrieved 2008-04-21.
  7. Bernard Rostker (19 September 2000). "TAB H -- Friendly-fire Incidents". United States Department of Defense. Retrieved 2008-08-11.
  8. "Sea Dart loses weight". Flight International. 26 February 1983.
  9. "HMS Daring sets sail for trials". BBC. 2007-07-18. Retrieved 2007-07-19.
  10. "HMS Edinburgh Fires Final Sea Dart Missiles". Retrieved 2012-05-20.


  • Britain's Modern Royal Navy, Paul Beaver, Patrick Stephens Limited, 1996 ISBN 1-85260-442-5
  • Naval Armament, Doug Richardson, Jane's Publishing, 1981, ISBN 0-531-03738-X
  • War Machines enciclopedy, Limited publishing, 1984 page 866 (Italian version printed by De Agostini) and page 1260-1268
  • Enciclopedy War Machines, 1265–70 and 864-65 (Italian edition)

See also

This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.