One of the British surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) made for the British Army and Royal Air Force, the Rapier entered in operation in 1971 and has since changed the rest of the anti-aircraft armaments in Army use. The quick response time and high manoeuvrability of the Rapier made it more formidable than any of the available weaponry and by 1977 had replaced them. It remains the UK's main air defence weapon following approximately 35 years of service, and is projected to be in use until 2020.
Rapier Missile Development
The development of Rapier was started during the 1960s as the ET.316 project which was support for the designed acquisition of the US MIM-46 Mauler system. The plan was to fight supersonic, low level aircraft which had elevated manoeuvrability.
The initial version employed an optical tracker. Later versions added tracking radar Blind fire (DN181) and an electro-optical tracker. A cheaper export derivative with a laser tracker was known as Laserfire. Rapier's first deployment took the form of a wheeled launcher with four missiles, an optical tracker unit and trailer of stores -- the whole kit along with crew delivered by three Land Rovers. It was typically used for airfield defence. With the addition of the tracker radar unit enemy targets could be identified more quickly and then the operator could choose an entirely automatic launch, or manual operation.
A mobile tracked version 'Tracked Rapier' was subsequently developed using the US M548 tracked carrier for the Shah of Iran. With the collapse of the Shah's government before delivery BAe had a system which they offered to the Royal Air Force. The first Tracked Rapiers to enter service with the British Army were with 11 (Sphinx) Air Defence Battery, of 22 Air Defence Regiment, Royal Artillery in 1982-83 in Napier Barracks near Dortmund. They were slow: 13 mph cross country and 20-30 mph on road, and the conditions in the launcher were cramped. The driver, commander and operator lived in the cab, which was approximately 1 m × 2.5 m × 1.5 m; this space was also taken up by an optical tracking unit, personal kit and rations. Deployment time, without test and adjustments ("Ts & As"), was about 30 seconds, compared to 30 minutes for the towed system. The support vehicle carried arms, water, fuel, was crewed by a driver and crew commander, and was much faster at 30 mph cross country."
The original Rapier FSA was deployed during the Falklands War against low-flying aircraft. In April 1982 T Battery joined 3 Commando Brigade as part of the Falklands Task Force. They landed at San Carlos on 21 May. Early post-war reports were favourable, indicating 14 kills and 6 probables. Later analysis was less rosy, indicating as few as three enemy aircraft were downed.
The main problems were a lack of range, and the lack of a proximity fuse, a deficiency which required the operator to strike the target aircraft directly with the missile. Rapier also suffered with problems with the Identification Friend Or Foe (IFF) system, although this did not contribute to the poor performance in the Falklands, since the batteries were allowed to fire at any targets, unless specifically instructed otherwise (e.g. by air control indicating that a friendly aircraft was coming in to land).
The current version, Rapier FSC (Field Standard C), was developed by MBDA (previously Matra BAe Dynamics) and is in service with the Royal Artillery. There is also an export version of the missile system called Jernas. Development of the FSC system began at the end of the 1980s and the systems first entered service in 1996.
It is used in a combined system with the Blind fire 2000 tracking radar and the Dagger surveillance radar. Eight missiles can be carried ready to fire, each with a high explosive warhead and missiles (designated MK2B) are now fitted with a proximity fuse. The missile's propulsion system is a two stage enhanced solid-propellant rocket motor capable of around Mach 2.5. The guidance is automatic infra-red and radar command to line of sight.
57 Fire Units Available
Possibly 24 in Service
Semi-Automatic Line of Sight (SACLOS)
Fire unit Height
Fire unit Weight
Radar Height (In Action)
Optical Tracker Height
Optical Tracker Weight
Supporting Systems - Firing Systems
The radar is a regularity responsive 3D pulse Doppler radar in service in J-band, with an inspection rate of 60 or 30rpm. The maximum detection range of the radar is in excess of 15km. An optional range of 32km is available. The maximum elevation is 5km. The system has the processing capacity to detect more than 75 threats per second. The radar provides bearing data and threat assessment from a Cossor Mark 10 or 12 IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) system. The signal processing system incorporates clutter rejection algorithms and is also resistant to electronic countermeasures. A high elevation guard beam automatically switches off the transmissions when the presence of an anti-radiation missile is detected.
The Blind fire tracking radar, supplied by Alenia Marconi Systems, is a differential mono-pulse frequency agile radar operating at F-band which provides fully automatic all-weather engagement. The output is sufficiently powerful to burn through most jamming signals and the radar uses advanced frequency management techniques to evade jamming and other hostile electronic countermeasures. The system incorporates a self-surveillance reversionary mode of operation. A dedicated missile command link provides dual firing capability.
The electro-optic tracking device, a passive infra-red electro-optic sensor, is mounted on the top of the turret in a spherical housing and is controlled by an operator at a weapon control terminal. The tracking device can be used in scanning mode to provide passive target detection and acquisition in radar-silent operations. Raytheon Systems Limited has been awarded a contract to supply all the UK Army's Rapier FSC systems with the SIFF (Successor Identification Friend or Foe).
When the surveillance radar detects and acquires a target, the bearing data is downloaded to the tracking radar and the launcher, which then automatically align to the target bearing. The target is acquired on the optical tracking system. When the surveillance radar has confirmed that the target is hostile the missile is launched. The missile is guided towards the target at speed in excess of Mach 2.5 by passive infra-red line of sight and active command to radar line of sight. The automatic reaction time is less than 5 seconds and a second target engagement takes less than 3 seconds.