Naval Strike Missile: A Microcosm of Tory Defence confusion
The Royal Navy’s warships — described by MPs last year as “spiky herbivores” due to their lack of offensive capacity — look set to go carnivorous.
On 23 November the Ministry of Defence announced it will acquire an unspecified number of the Norwegian-built Naval Strike Missile (NSM) to equip 11 warships, starting with three ships by the end of 2023.
With a range of 185+km, the ability to hit land targets as well as ships, and to make high-G evasive manouvers as it approaches its target, the NSM has been chosen as an interim solution, prior to the roll-out of a more lethal Anglo-French missile set to become available after 2028.
Built by Kongsberg, Norway’s 69% state-owned defence company, the missiles will be installed at the Plymouth and Portsmouth bases of the ships involved.
The decision comes not a moment too soon. The Harpoon missiles on the navy’s Type 23 frigates are obsolete and due for withdrawal next year.
But it comes after a tortuous process which, in microcosm, illustrates the budget and technology dilemmas the Royal Navy faces — in part due to Boris Johnson’s hubristic “Global Britain” policy.
Having started a competition to acquire an interim missile in 2019, the MoD paused it in November 2021 and then definitively cancelled it, just eight days before Russia invaded Ukraine. The move would have left the Royal Navy’s warships reliant on short-range, helicopter-borne missiles as their main means of attacking surface ships.
In June 2022 Britain’s defence secretary Ben Wallace appeared to resurrect the competition, telling MPs:
“I’m not even sure if it’s been put out to a tender but there is absolutely a plan”.
It’s now clear that the final NSM procurement process was totally separate from the original competition, with the Norwegian option likely to have been chosen on the basis of “grab what you can”.
At time of writing the MoD has revealed neither the number of missiles purchased, nor the cost — which is apparently…