Know the Best of the Marte Anti-ship Missile

“Marte” is the Italian word for “Mars.” In the realm of military technology, it refers to a series of anti-ship missiles developed by the Italian company MBDA. Know the Best of the Marte Anti-ship Missile, a lightweight, sea-skimming missile designed for use from various platforms, including naval vessels, aircraft, and coastal defence systems.

It is also known as the “Sea Killer” within the Italian anti-ship missile family. This missile is equipped with a 70 kg (150 lb) semi-armor-piercing warhead. MBDA has developed several versions of the Marte missile, each with differing guidance systems, making it suitable for launching from both ships and aircraft.

The Marte ER boasts an advanced guidance system that combines beam riding, GPS, and active radar homing, ensuring precise targeting and striking of enemy ships. It has a range exceeding 100 km (62 miles), allowing it to engage naval threats from a significant distance.

Development of the Marte Anti-Ship Missile (AShM)

In 1963, the Swiss arms firm Oerlikon Contraves’ Italian subsidiary Contraves Italiana initiated the development of Nettuno, a short-range anti-ship missile system designed for ship-based use with a range of 10 km. This missile followed a guidance system based on beam riding, and it incorporated an inbuilt radar altimeter to autonomously adjust its altitude, allowing it to execute low-altitude attacks over the ocean’s surface.

In case of jamming or other interference affecting the beam-riding guidance, command guidance served as a backup control method. Simultaneously, Contraves Italiana was working on an improved missile, codenamed Vulcano, in 1965. While it retained the same guidance system, it featured a two-stage rocket motor that extended its range to 25 km.

In order to advance the missile program, a consortium of five Italian industries established the Italian company Sistel in 1967. As a result, the Nettuno and Vulcano missiles were designated Sea Killer Marks 1 and 2, respectively, with the intention to create export variants. Subsequently, Iran acquired the Sea Killer Mark 2 for its four frigates, each of which featured a single five-round launcher.
Concurrently, development work on the Sea Killer Mark 2 all-weather anti-ship missile for Italian Navy helicopters commenced in 1967, and it was designated as Marte. By 1977, the Italian Navy began gradually integrating it into service, equipping their Sikorsky SH-3 Sea Kings with two Sea Killer Mark 2 missiles. Testing of the Marte 2 missile commenced in 1984, and it was officially introduced into the Italian Navy’s service in 1987.
Photo Credit: MBDA / marte_mk2 / Know the Best of the Marte Anti-ship Missile
Photo Credit: MBDA / Know the Best of the Marte Anti-ship Missile

Enhancement of Development: MARTE ER (Extended Range) Version

The Marte ER underwent development that introduced a redesigned ISO-caliber cylinder cell and the Williams WJ-24-8G turbojet engine. These changes reduced the missile’s overall length while significantly increasing its range to nearly 100 km. In June 2014, experiments were conducted with the Marte ER to assess its capabilities against larger anti-ship missiles, like the Exocet. However, the Exocet was rejected for integration due to its physical dimensions, as it was considered too long and heavy. The tests were performed on the NH90 helicopter, which has the capacity to carry two Marte ER missiles.
Despite its smaller size compared to other options like the Harpoon and RBS-15 Gungnir, the Marte-ERP offers an advantage for fighters like the Eurofighter Typhoon. It can carry six Marte-ERPs (or four with additional fuel tanks), while larger missiles are typically limited to two or three. The Marte-ERP is designed with fixed wings, eliminating the need for folding fins, and it omits the booster in favour of a larger 120 kg (265 lb) warhead with both penetrating and sector-blast properties.
In November 2021, the Marte ER successfully completed its final test firing. Sources indicate that full-scale production commenced in late March 2022, and deliveries to the Qatari Emiri Navy, the inaugural customer for this product, have since begun.
Photo Credit: MBDA / NH90 is armed with Marte ER
Photo Credit: MBDA / NH90 is armed with Marte ER
MARTE ER Advantages: The MARTE ER represents the third generation of missile systems in the MARTE family, succeeding the MARTE MK2/S, which is already deployed by the Italian Navy on its NFH90 and AW101 helicopters. The primary differentiator between the two is the replacement of the rocket motor with a turbo engine.
  • Able to withstand all weather
  • The safest stand-off engagement distances for helicopters
  • Launch helicopter exposure must be kept to a minimum with quick disengagement and little on-task time (fire and forget missiles, launch on external targeting, covert operations).
  • Profile of a flight over the sea
  • Mid-autonomous, fire-and-forget launch with mid-course guidance
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Photo Credit: MBDA / Marte MK2N firing
Photo Credit: MBDA / Marte MK2N firing

Mobile Coastal Defense System (MCDS): This land-based coastal protection system is equipped to launch both Marte MK2/N and Marte ER missiles. For the full range of Marte ER’s capabilities, the system requires mid-course guidance.

The final addition to the MARTE family of systems, which already includes the MARTE MK2/N Naval version, MARTE MK2/S Helicopter version, MARTE MK2/A Light Combat Aircraft version, and the MARTE ER for helicopters and fast jet aircraft, is the MARTE MK2 Mobile Coastal Defense System (MCDS).

The primary objectives of the MARTE MK2 MCDS are:

  • Interception of hostile ships in territorial waters
  • Surveillance of maritime coastal traffic

Alongside Italy, six other nations are also utilizing this weapon system. These nations include Iran, Qatar, Senegal, Turkmenistan, UAE, and Venezuela

Photo Credit: MBDA / Marte Coastal Battery in Dimdex (Doha International Maritime Defence Exhibition & Conference)
Photo Credit: MBDA / Marte Coastal Battery in Dimdex (Doha International Maritime Defence Exhibition & Conference)

Technical Specifications of the Marte ER and MK2

  • WeightMarte ER: 340 kg ( 750 lb ) and Marte MK2/S, Marte MK2/N: 310 kg ( 680 lb )
  • Length:  Marte ER: 11 ft 10 in ( 3.6 m ) and Marte MK2/S, Marte MK2/N: 12 ft 8 in ( 3.85 m )
  • Diameter:  12.4 in ( 316 mm )
  • Wingspan:  3 ft 3.3 in
  • Warhead:  70 kg ( 150 lb ) Semi-armour piercing HE ( High Explosive )
  • Detonation mechanism: Impact and proximity fuze
  • RangeMarte ER: over 100 km (62 mi) and Marte MK2/S, Marte MK2/N: 30 km (19 mi)
  • Speed:  High subsonic, Mach 0.9
  • Operation:  Day, Night or Adverse weather
  • Accuracy:  3 m CEP
  • Guidance system:  Active radar homing
  • Launch Platform: Naval ships, aircraft, helicopters and coastal installations

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In conclusion, the Marte Anti-Ship Missile (AShM) stands as a testament to the enduring commitment to innovation and precision in the field of military technology. Developed by MBDA, this family of missiles has evolved over the years, with each variant representing a leap forward in naval warfare capabilities. From its early iterations to the state-of-the-art Marte ER (Extended Range), the system has consistently demonstrated accuracy and effectiveness in engaging a wide range of naval targets.

The story of the Marte AShM serves as a testament to the enduring pursuit of excellence in military technology, where precision, range, and adaptability continue to be the cornerstones of naval deterrence and defence.

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