Aster is a family of surface-to-air missiles manufactured by Eurosam, a European consortium consisting of MBDA France, MBDA Italy (combined 66%) and the Thales Group (33%).
The Aster family was developed to perform three distinct missions:
- Naval autodefence — using the Aster 15 surface-to-air anti-missile missile (SAAM) as used on the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (SAAM-FR), the future Italian aircraft carrier Cavour (SAAM-IT) and selected for the 27 French/Italian FREMM multipurpose frigates.
- Naval local and zone defence — Integrated Principle Anti-Air Missile System (PAAMS) using Aster 15 and Aster 30 missiles, selected by British, French and Italian navies. PAAMS delivered by EUROPAAMS consortium, another MBDA/Thales partnership.
- Ground-based area defence — Sol-Air Moyenne Portée (SAMP-T) using batteries of Aster 30 missiles.
During the 1980s, the predominant missiles in Franco-Italian service were short-range, such as the French Crotale, Italian Aspide or American Sea Sparrow, with ranges up to a dozen kilometres. Some vessels were also equipped with the American medium/long range Standard.
France and Italy decided to start development of a domestic medium/long range surface-to-air missile, to enter service in the first decade of this millennium, that would give them comparable range and superior interception capability to the American Standard or British Sea Dart already in service. Thought was given in particular to the new missile's ability to intercept next-generation supersonic anti-ship missiles, such as the Brahmos missile developed jointly by India and Russia.
This allowed the actual systems to have the characteristic of being specialised either in short-to-medium range "point defence" (ships, for instance), or in medium-to-long range "zone defence" (fleets).
The resulting Aster surface-to-air missile meets inter-service and international requirements, addressing the needs of the land, air and naval forces of France, Italy and the United Kingdom. The decision to base the missile around a common terminal intercept 'dart' to which different sized boosters can be attached has made it modular and extensible.
Additionally, the Aster system was designed in such a way as to allow any of the versions to have an anti-ballistic tactical missile role.
The Aster features two significant improvements over the previous generation of missiles :
New control system : control flaps are associated with four powder maneuver rockets at the center of gravity of the missile (also referred to as PIF-PAF for Pilotage induit en force—Pilotage aérodynamique en force
). The system prevents a rupture of the missile under high-g
maneuvers during trajectory corrections, and allows such maneuvers to be performed without losing aerodynamic performances, improving the precision of the impact on target. A standard launch of the Aster can include 90-degree trajectory changes.
The shipboard radar fulfills roles of sentry, meteo, target discrimination, acquisition and chase. It is capable of simultaneously tracking 300 flying objects, discriminating around 60, and guiding up to 16 missiles.
- The Charles de Gaulle received her complement in 2001.
- The new Italian aircraft carrier Cavour will carry Aster 15 (32 missiles in two blocks of 16 cells).
- Saudi Arabia
- United Kingdom
As of May 2006, the Aster has never been used in actual combat.
During trials, between 1993 and 1994, all flight sequences, altitudes and ranges, were validated. This was also the period during which the launch sequence of Aster 30 was validated.
In May 1996, trials of the Aster 15 active electromagnetical final guidance system against live targets began. All six attempts were successful:
- 8 April 1997: interception of a C22 target simulating a subsonic antiship missile, flying at 10 metres, at a distance of 7 kilometres.
- 23 May 1997: Direct impact on an Exocet anti-ship missile of the first generation, at 9 kilometres, to protect a distant ship (7 kilometres). This was the first "hit-to-kill" interception ever against an anti-ship missile.
- 13 November 1997: interception of a C22 target in very low flight in a strong countermeasures environment. In this test, the Aster was not armed with its military warhead so that the distance between the Aster and the target could be recorded. The C22 was recovered bearing two strong cuts due to the fins of the Aster missile.
- 30 December 1997: Interception of a live C22 target by an Aster 30 at a distance of 30 kilometres, an altitude of 11,000 metres, and a speed of 900 km/h. The Aster climbed up to 15,000 metres before falling on the target at a speed of 2880 km/h. The closest distance between the Aster and the C22 was four metres.
- 29 June 2001 : Interception of a Arabel missile in low altitude, in less than five seconds.
- In 2001 : Interception by the Aster 15 of a target simulating an aircraft flying at Mach-1 at an altitude of 100 metres.
- On 3rd April 2008, the Republic of Singapore Navy frigate RSS Intrepid shot down a aerial drone off the French port of Toulon during an exercise.
The Aster 15 and Aster 30 differ only in the size of their booster - total weights being 310kg and 450kg respectively.