Modernization of the MM40 Exocet Block 2 and Block 3 to the Block 3C standard of the Hellenic Navy?

The recent visits of an MBDA delegation to Athens since November 15 (Greek Defense and Intervention Frigate program) focused in particular on the modernization of subsonic anti-ship missiles MM40 Exocet Block 3 au standard Block 3C doubled by the acquisition of new examples to ensure the equipment of the 19 fast missile patrol boats of the Greek fleet. The financial cost of such a program is not yet known. It represents an important issue for Athens whose objective is to maintain military parity with Ankara.

The Turkish surface fleet will be strong 32 units whose 16 new or modernized frigates in the early 2030s. The 19 fast missile patrol vessels consist of classes Kılıç (9) Star (2) Doğan (4) et Wind (4). No new program has yet been put in place for succeed the oldest classes (Doğan (4) et Wind (4) who are no longer under age.

The Greek surface fleet is strong 32 units of which 13 class frigates Elli (9) – Dutch Kortenaer class (7) plus a subclass (2) – and Hydra (4) who are, on average, 22,75 years old for the class Hydra (4) and 38,3 years for Elli (9). In addition to these frigates, there are 19 fast missile-launching patrol boats.

The newest of them are class Roussen (7). They are equipped with subsonic anti-ship missiles MM40 Exocet Block 3 arranged in two quadruple launchers on each building.

The oldest fast missile patrol vessels belong to the classes Laskos (4) Votes (3) et Kavaloudis (5) or respectively La Combattante III, La Combattante IIIa and La Combattante IIIb (Construction Mécanique de Normandie). They are all equipped with subsonic anti-ship missiles RGM-84 Harpoon Block AI (130 km range).

The obsolescence of this latest ammunition already required the Royal Navy (RGM-84 Harpoon Block IC (220 km range) to schedule its withdrawal at the end of 2018 before changing its mind and pushing back the deadline to 2020 in a final effort in order to find an interim solution while waiting for the FC/ASW expected to enter service in 2030.

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In 2000 (3), 2003 (2) and 2008 (2) Athens ordered seven Super Vita fast missile patrol vessels from the British Vosper Thornycroft shipyard, since belonging to BAE Systems Surface Ships. They were manufactured in Greece by Elefsis Shipyards between 2001 and 2019 and belong to the Roussen class. A final order of three boats is still hoped for.

The Greek Navy is not immune to this problem, which is twofold because the Hellenic Navy general staff wants to be able to replace the anti-ship missiles on 12 of its 19 fast missile patrol boats as much as to reduce the geopolitical risk. : Athens does not want to depend on a single supplier of anti-ship missiles. Class frigates Elli (9) et Hydra (4) are already equipped with the RGM-84 Harpoon Block 1A that will need to be replaced for the Hydra as part of the current mid-life renovation program and for Elli which will survive until replaced.

With this in mind, the overall maneuver aims to replace the RGM-84 Harpoon Block AI classes Laskos (4) Votes (3) et Kavaloudis (5) MM40 Exocet Block 3C and to bring the MM40 Block 3 of Roussen (7). Only two units of the Roussen class distinguish themselves by wearing MM40 Exocet Block 2 (5,64 meters long, mass of 825 kg including a military load of 165 kg unit, speed of 980 km.h-1): these are the Daniolos (2006) et Krystallidis (2006). This will involve modernizing these munitions by also bringing them up to standard Block 3C.

Le MM40 Exocet Block 3 was developed at the initiative of MBDA on its own funds from 2004 before the DGA and the French Navy supported the project and it became a program in its own right. The first deliveries began in 2012 and have continued since. Other countries ordered the new evolution of MM40 Exocet for the benefit of their navy, namely the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, the Sultanate of Oman, Morocco, Algeria, Greece and Peru.

The subsonic anti-ship missile MM40 Exocet Block 3 (5,64 meters long, 825 kg including a fragmented warhead of 165 kg) benefits from an increase in its maximum range compared to the Block 2. Solid propellant propulsion has been entirely outsourced within a boost which ensures the propulsion phase of the munition outside the launcher and during its first phase of flight. The space freed inside the ammunition is occupied by a reactor TRI-40 MicroTurbo, allowing the missile to reach a range of 178 km compared to only 72 km for the MM40 Exocet Block 2.

The munition guidance system always includes an inertial navigation unit coupled to an altimeter radar allowing it to move close to the water. A J-band radar provides terminal guidance using adaptive processing to distinguish between sea and coastal targets. THE Block 3 now includes a GPS receiver.

The consequences regarding the anti-ship capabilities of the missile are that it can now follow pre-programmed trajectories in three dimensions and during a salvo firing each of the munitions can be assigned to a different target while following another road than them. Even the final trajectory of the munition can be pre-programmed in order to be able to attack the least defended sector of the target building from the least predictable azimuth. This use of GPS also allows the missile to strike coastal targets with a limited capacity since it is not equipped with a terrain following mode.

This is what attracted the Hellenic Navy because the carrier vessel can, for example, hide its presence behind an island while launching a salvo of these missiles thanks to the firing solutions provided through another platform. .

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As part of the FMAN/FMC (or FC/ASW on the other side of the Channel) program, MBDA proposed several “vision concepts” including this one which is a supersonic cruise missile. The French Navy has made no secret that to replace the Exocet its preference was for a maneuvering supersonic missile, rather than a hypersonic missile. Is Greece targeting the program?

Le MM40 Block 3C benefits from a slightly improved range which exceeds 180 km to reach 200 km. The navigation system is fully digitalized and benefits from the addition of an active radio frequency seeker in order to perfect the terminal guidance of the missile. The “C” for Coherent means that the processing backed by the radar working in J band is able to extract from the surrounding noise of the target the coherent information useful for discriminating the building or the coastal target in question. The ammunition is also once again better hardened against electronic countermeasures and the most advanced jamming systems. Furthermore, the use of new waveforms makes it possible to provide the missile with the ability to recognize the target.

Also, the Hellenic Navy is looking for possible synergies between MM40 Block 3 et 3C and cruise missiles SCALP-EG of which the Greek Air Force (Polemikí Aeroporía) had purchased 90 examples. THE SCALP-EG are powered by TRI-60 reactors when the MM40 Exocet Block 3C are by TRI-40.

The first copies of the MM40 Exocet Block 3C should be delivered to the French Navy during the year 2021. If the names of the first vessels equipped are not known, it would be logical that they arm the FREMM n°7 and 8, namely the frigates Alsace et Lorraine which will be received in 2021 and 2022 by the Navy. The military programming law (2019 – 2025) includes an order for 35 examples while a next order for 20 additional missiles is expected in the early 2020s, which would only allow the equipping of six frigates with full equipment or 13 frigates with a salvo reduced to 4 missiles.

This future Greek program of modernization of its MM40 Exocet Block 2 et 3 to bring them to standard Block 3C and acquisition of additional munitions will not only concern the 19 fast missile patrol boats but also the first two defense and intervention frigates, the order of which is soon expected. In the event of complete execution of the planned program, the Hellenic Navy would become the second largest user of the Exocet missile in Europe after France, which amounts to questioning Greek ambitions regarding the acquisition of the ticket to access future munitions. planned as part of the Future Anti-ship Missile / Future Cruise Missile programe (FMAN / CME ou Future Cruise / Anti-Ship Weapon (FC/ASW) which replaces all Exocet (except the SM39 Block 2 ?) as well as SCALP-EG.

About Ioannis NIKITAS (Defense review) and Thibault LAMIDEL

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