An Aster 30 SAMP/T fires. (MBDA)
LA SPEZIA, Italy — The Italian Army — as it readies its new Aster missile-based air defense capability — says it is looking to give the system a role in knocking out tactical ballistic missiles as well as aircraft.
Known as the Surface-to-Air Missile Platform/Terrain (SAMP/T), the MBDA-built system should reach initial operating capability with the Italian Army’s 4th Air Defense Regiment by the end of this year and full operating capability by the end of 2013.
The system was developed to bring down aircraft and cruise missiles. But following the example of the French Air Force, which also operates it, Italian Army commanders will take part in tests in France in March to show their system also has anti-ballistic missile credentials.
“It is an extra capability to have, and one that features in NATO’s new strategy,” said Col. Carlo Zantilli, the regiment’s commander.
The French Air Force already tested SAMP/T in the anti-ballistic missile role in 2010 and 2011 at the Biscarossa range in France using the Black Sparrow decoy target.
“It is the only capability of this kind that Italy has, and we would like to be involved in NATO’s ballistic missile defense program, as do the French,” Zantilli said.
Tests have shown the vertically launched Aster 30 missiles fired by the system SAMP/T, which replaces Italy’s Hawk system, are capable of stopping short- to medium-range ballistic missiles with a range up to 1,300 kilometers, the Army said.
Italy is acquiring five SAMP/T batteries to be based with the regiment at Mantua, plus one training version to be based at Sabaudia, south of Rome. Two have been delivered by supplier MBDA, while three more will arrive in 2013. Each battery consists of six to eight launchers, which can be set up as far as 10 kilometers from trucks containing an Arabel radar, a generator for the radar, an engagement module and a command module. The package also contains two trucks for resupplying the launcher trucks, for a total of up to 14 trucks per battery.
The Army puts the missile’s range at 120 kilometers, compared with the 80 kilometers of the Patriot Advanced Capability-2 missile. The system can manage 16 missiles in flight, compared with nine for the Patriot. The Arabel radar rotates to view 360 degrees compared with 90 degrees for the Patriot radar.
“Up until now the Italian Air Force has taken care of high-altitude missile defense, the Army has looked after medium altitude and the Navy has protected its fleet, but with NATO now asking for cities to be defended from ballistic missiles, things are evolving,” an Italian industrial source said. “In Italy, it looks like the Army is taking the initiative.”
The Navy’s two new 7,300-ton Horizon frigates also host Aster missile-based air defense systems known as the Principal Anti-Air Missile System. They feature 48 Aster missiles — either the 15 or 30 variety — the Thales S 1850M long-range radar and the Empar fire control radar, which can manage 24 missiles against 12 targets simultaneously.
For now, the Navy is reveling in the enhanced radar capacity offered by the system.
One frigate, the Andrea Doria, used its long-range radar to watch for aircraft and missiles hailing from Libya last year after the launch of allied air raids and before the arrival of NATO airborne warning and control system aircraft.