MBDA’s Marte ER missile is under delivery and looking for new customers

Luca Peruzzi

Developed and under assembly, test and delivery at MBDA Italia ASuW weapon system centre of excellence at La Spezia, on the northern-west coast of Italy, the new generation intermediate-range and multi-platform Marte ER (Extended Range) has been delivered to the launch customer, the Qatar Armed Forces. Its procurement is also planned, but not yet funded, by the Italian Ministry of Defence (MoD), while it is proposed on the international market.

Based on the long experience accumulated with the in-service Exocet MM40, Otomat/Teseo and Marte anti-ship missile families and their coastal defence systems (MCDSs) versions, in September 2016 MBDA was awarded an undisclosed value contract by the Qatar MoD for delivering an unrevealed number of new generation MCDSs equipped with both the Exocet MM 40 and the new Marte ER missiles. During the DIMDEX 2018 exhibition MBDA was awarded a separate contract from the same customer for delivering the helicopter launched version, to be used on NHIndustries NH90 naval version helicopters, under contract with Leonardo as prime contractor together with NH90 tactical transport platforms.

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“The Marte ER design was initially launched as an internal self-funded project on the basis of customers’ operational requirements for an anti-ship weapon system with an intermediate range and capable to be launched by rotary-wing platforms. The development programme was formally launched in January 2016,” said Francesco Salvetti, Marte ER Chief Engineer. “Based on the experience gained with the Marte Mk 2 family, the new weapon has been conceived since the beginning as a multi-platform weapon capable to be launched not only by rotary-wing, ground and naval platforms but also from slow-speed fixed-wing aircraft, alongside advanced trainer/light ground attack aircraft and fast-jet platforms,” he continued. To cope with these requirements, while reusing components of the Marte Mk 2 design to reduce costs, MBDA Italia ASuW missile centre of excellence engineers developed a missile airframe that maintains a constant section slightly larger than the Marte warhead diameter, and equipped with a turbojet engine in order to ensure the required intermediate range indicated in ‘well beyond 100 km’.

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The Marte ER is a high-subsonic (over 0.9 Mach), ‘skid-to-turn’ missile with midsection X-arranged foldable wings and similarly-arranged rear foldable control surfaces and actuators in order to ensure a more immediate respond to commands, providing an overall enhanced manoeuvrability, especially in the terminal phase, to ensure higher survivability. Although MBDA is reluctant to provide information on the propulsion system, EDR On-Line understood the weapon uses the well proven Williams International WJ-24-8G turbojet with modifications to provide increased thrust. “MBDA contributed to the customization of the propulsion package,” Salvetti said, adding the latter comes in a single package together with the JP-10 based fuel system and the ventral inlet. The resulting design features a 3.6 meters long airframe with a 316 mm maximum body diameter, with an overall 340 kg weight including the two side-placed acceleration boosters for the helicopter, ground, shipborne and low-speed fixed-wing variants. From front to back, the missile features the seeker, the warhead, the control and navigation section, the folding wing assembly, the integrated propulsion package and the tail section with control fins. Boosters provide the required launch extra power for 1.5 seconds before separation. “In January 2020, MBDA Italia engineers decide to equip the Marte ER with a completely new solid state radio-frequency seeker completely developed within the Group and of which the Italian branch has the design authority,” the MBDA representative highlighted. To cope with present and future electronically dense operational scenarios, the new seeker derives from the same family design initially used on the CAMM surface-to-air missile, and features a large-band digital receiver and latest generation conventional antenna. The new seeker, which EDR On-Line understood being in the Ku-band, is equipped with logics entirely developed by MBDA Italia for anti-ship missions and ensures advanced ECCMs. The fully autonomous inertial navigation suite is aided by jam-resistant GPS and radar altimeter to ensure sea-skimming as well as low flying capability over land, and provides enhanced mid-course flight accuracy until the seeker is activated. The GPS also allows attack on land coordinates as well as on ships at anchor.

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As anticipated, the Marte ER uses the same 70+ kg semi-piercing high explosive warhead of the Marte Mk2 family, with impact and proximity (fly-over) fuze, however the MBDA representative said a scalable warhead of new design can be installed. A new advanced mission planning with up to 10 3D waypoints (compared to three of the Marte Mk 2) with multiple missiles firing with simultaneous time-on-target (STOT), alongside firing on third party target coordinates, ensures a quick automatic solution and the possibility to manually modify the trajectory as well as seeker’s search patterns.

“The new Marte version uses a common airframe that, thanks to an adaptation kit, develops into the Naval/Ground (N/G) and Helicopter (H/C) variants, main differences being the launch canister, used by the N/G variant, as well as the operational software. This allows a single missile assembly line to be used for both variants, permitting a shift from one to the other in a short time, quickly responding to market requests. Moreover, a common operational footprint and logistic support helps customers to benefit from both variants procurement,” Salvetti underlined. The N/G variant is launched from a new single-shot lightweight aluminium canister that includes a health and usage monitoring system (HUMS) that checks missile conditions on storage. The H/C variant differs for a folding-wing blocking system and covers for both the motor inlet and exhaust. The air-launched version has also provisions for the Mil-Std 1760 digital interface connectors to seamlessly integrate on modern airborne platforms.

As previously mentioned, both N/G and H/C variants are under contract as respectively effectors of the MCDS (in this case together with the Exocet MM 40 Block 3) for the Qatar Emiri Naval Force (QENF) and the NFH90 helicopters for the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF). The missile “full scale” qualification was completed in late 2021, after the fourth development firing trial. The first launch was conducted in November 2018 to validate the missile propulsion and control system, the second equipped with the seeker was carried out in January 2020, while the third was in the final and definitive configuration from the MCDS’ missile firing unit (MFU). The MT4 firing involved the production series configuration successfully conducting evasive manoeuvres in the terminal attacking phase.

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MBDA supported Leonardo in the complete integration of the missile on board the NFH90 in 2022, and although the company did not confirm a qualification campaign from the helicopter is expected soon, as missile deliveries in the N/G version are understood to have already begun while the H/C is about to follow.

While the Italian MoD’s Air Armaments and Airworthiness Directorate has recently awarded MBDA a contract to extend the helicopter-launched Marte Mk 2/S munitions life, the Italian Navy requested information on the potential development and production of a national version of the Marte ER, and MBDA Italia has submitted an offer based on the requested ‘potential’ configuration. No details were provided by the company, but EDR On-Line understood it could be equipped with spin-offs of main technologies applied to the development of the new long-range anti-ship missile with strike capabilities, the Teseo Mk 2/E, which programme includes a dual-way data link, a dual seeker homing system, and the aforementioned scalable warhead. The Marte Mk 2/S is equipping both Italian Navy NFH90s and EH-101s, the Marte ER expecting to be integrated on both platforms. The helicopter launched version of the new missile has attracted the interest of other potential customers, among which the German Navy for its new NFH90s. The Marte ER has been developed to equip additional platforms, namely the MH-60R, providing the latter with an organic anti-ship capability while maintaining an interesting mission endurance compared to larger weapon systems.

MBDA also designed  a version to be used on fast-jet aircraft, which led to a feasibility study awarded by the Leonardo in 2017 to integrate the missile on the Eurofighter Typhoon based on a request coming from a foreign potential customer. The study has been delivered but no further activities were carried out, also due to the pandemic, The latter version has been disclosed featuring new fixed X-arranged mid-section foldable wings and rear control fins. In the past MBDA also studied the integration of the Marte ER on board the F-35, under an internal small project.   

Photos courtesy MBDA