Rapier FSC

Rapier missile

Rapier is a British surface-to-air missile developed for the British Army and Royal Air Force. Entering service in 1971, it eventually replaced all other anti-aircraft weapons in Army service; guns for low-altitude targets, and the English Electric Thunderbird, used against longer-range and higher-altitude targets. As the expected air threat moved from medium-altitude strategic missions to low-altitude strikes, the fast reaction time and high maneuverability of the Rapier made it more formidable than either of these weapons, replacing most of them by 1977. It remains the UK's primary air-defense weapon after almost 35 years of service, and is expected to serve until 2020.


Rapier began development in the 1960s as the ET.316 project which was a back up for the planned purchase of the US MIM-46 Mauler system. The project was to combat supersonic, low level, high manoeuvrability craft. The British Aircraft Corporation, as it was at the time, had a private venture Sightline which formed the basis of ET.316. The subsequent cancellation of Mauler meant that ET.316 was completely developed. Entering service with the British military in 1971, due to its accuracy it was promoted as a "hittile", originally relying on direct impact with the target rather than the large proximity fused warheads used by other missiles.

The initial version employed an optical tracker. Later versions added a tracking radar Blindfire (DN181) and an electro-optical tracker. A cheaper export derivative with a laser tracker was known as Laserfire.

Rapier in its initial outing 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.

Combat history

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.

“Within the total only five Argentine aircraft might have been shot down by Rapier, and, as originally noted by Ethell and Price, only one of these was certain, with two probables and two possibles. Similar discrepancies arose over other weapons systems, notably Blowpipe (one to two confirmed kills as against nine confirmed and two probables in the White Paper) and Sea Cat (zero to one against eight confirmed and two probables in the White Paper). […] This confirmation that MoD had exaggerated, however unwittingly, the capabilities of Rapier was deemed to be political dynamite. It was observed that if this assessment became publicly known it ‘could have a serious adverse effects on sales’ prospects for Rapier, which is the staple revenue-earner for BAe’s Dynamic Group.”

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 Blindfire 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.

Potential future replacement

At the DSEi conference in September 2007 it was announced the UK MoD was funding a study by MBDA to investigate a replacement for Rapier which is scheduled to leave service about 2020. The Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM), would share components with the ASRAAM missile in service with the RAF.


: no longer in service.


See also

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