By Luca Peruzzi
The SAMP/T NG programme contract awarded in March 2021 includes the development of the new system modules and of the Aster 30 Block 1NT EC munition variant. No further details were released but EDR On-Line understood that the industrial team and the organization have already defined the final system configuration; during the next year timeframe, Eurosam will finalize and specify the level of details together with the supply chain and components providers to submit a final economical offer for the production and delivery phase of the programme. The industrial team has already submitted a not binding offer for the awarded contract, which will be refined based on the detailing activities which will be conducted during the same year timeframe. This to provide a final offer and begin contractual negotiations to reach an agreement and contract award, which signature is foreseen by late 2022. In the meantime, the development of the Aster 30 Block 1NT, which was launched in 2016, will continue, and first firings are planned in 2022. In parallel, the SAMP/T NG command and control capabilities will be developed together with the new EC munition variant and alongside new multifunction radars. A programme schedule hasn’t been finalized yet, EDR On-Line understood, but according to the general outline subjected to the to-be-achieved intermediate programme milestone, as soon as SAMP/T NG C2 initial building blocks and new radars will be ready, the latter will participate in background, without being directly involved in B1NT firings, shadowing the current but modified SAMP/T batteries firing the B1NT, to validate the new C2 software and kill chain. The SAMP/T NG Amendment to the S&E contract foresees the first test firings, including the EC variant of the Aster 30 B1NT, from 2024. According to the contract award press statement, OCCAR foresees the qualification of the SAMP/T NG with the new munition by 2025. A parallel or follow-on contract is to be awarded by OCCAR to produce the new B1NT EC munition, which assembly and delivery is expected to be conducted by respectively MBDA France and MBDA Italia at their respective facilities, with the contribution of the MBDA group supply chain of components suppliers, including Thales and Roxel for France, and Leonardo, Avio and Simmel Difesa for Italy.
New customers and naval developments
On the international arena, the Aster family of missiles is currently in service in land-based or/and naval-based versions with five international customers including Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore, and soon with Qatar. While international campaigns are on-going, during the webinar organised last March by the Italian independent, non-profit think-tank ‘Istituto Affari Internazionali’ on ‘Missile Defence in Europe and Italy: capabilities and cooperation’ with a dedicated study presentation, the Italian Chief of Defence, General Enzo Vecciarelli confirmed that the Italian Air Force was expected to join the programme without providing further details on the extent of the involvement, time schedule and funding. MBDA Italia managing director Lorenzo Mariani added that the company was working on that file and the follow-on months will be devoted to consolidating a potential offer. The approval on last 4 August and the subsequent release of the Defence Multi-year Planning Document 2021-2023 (Documento Programmatico Pluriennale 2021-2023) by the Italian MoD, shed the light on the new programme “aimed at the modernization of the national air and missile defense capability, within the broader framework of the NATO Air Defense and Integrated Missile Defense system. The programme, as a whole, includes the introduction of ‘New Generation’ technology in the inventory systems, following the appropriate study and development activities; the adaptation of the Aster missile fleet by means of modernization (obsolescence elimination, middle-life overhaul) and renovation (acquisition of new missiles); the overall expansion of the national capacity (in question) through the completion of the 6th SAMP/T battery (for the Italian Army) which, currently incomplete/inoperative, will in the future also be used for joint training (Army and Air Force); the procurement of a (new and additional) inventory of five SAMP/T batteries to protect (Italian) Air Force assets”, says the DPP 2021-2023. Moreover, the programme is expected to be financed through funding of the Ministry for the Economic Development (for a total of € 684 million) and the Ministry of Defence ordinary budget (for a total of € 1.69 billion). The programme has an estimate overall cost of € 3.05 billion, “of which a tranche is funded for a total of € 2.37 billion distributed over 15 years”. According to the same document, the approval process of the envisaged programme is underway. The Italian Air Force will therefore become the third customer of the SAMP/T NG, although no information has been provided on the system configuration. The fact that the Italian Army will complete and devote one (the sixth) battery to joint training indicates a communality between the two service’s batteries.
The latest developments of the MBDA missile family, and specifically the new Aster 30 Block 1NT EC ammunition, are expected to gain an important market share in the naval domain, initially among the FSAF-PAAMS programme operators, and potentially among current and future international customers, further extending the capabilities and the life of the European group’s surface-to-air system that saw its origins at the end of the 1980s.