The NATO Seasparrow Missile System Project is an international initiative that began in the late 1960s to develop an effective point defence missile system, missiles and associated launchers, in order to protect naval forces from evolving air and surface missile threats. This initiative was undertaken by several countries through a cooperative Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and resulted in the development of the original NATO Seasparrow Missile System.
The NATO Seasparrow entered service in the Royal Canadian Navy with the Iroquois-class destroyers in 1972. The NATO Seasparrow was selected for the Halifax-class’ Point Defence Missile System in the early 1980s and underwent an extensive upgrade in the late 1990s. Once a new version of the missile, the Evolved Seasparrow Missile, was completed in 2001, the Department of National Defence (DND) entered into a cooperative MOU for in-service support of the Evolved Seasparrow Missile. Currently, there are 12 nations involved in the NATO Seasparrow Consortium: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the United States.
The consortium is currently developing the next version of the defensive missile system – often referred to as Evolved Seasparrow Missile Block 2 – to manage obsolescence issues and counter evolving missile threats. Canada’s long-time membership in the NATO Seasparrow Consortium has already, and will continue to, benefit Canadian industry, creating high-value jobs and economic growth for Canadians.
In November 2014, DND signed onto the Memorandum of Understanding for the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the latest version of the point defense missile system, the Evolved Seasparrow Block 2. The Evolved Seasparrow Missile Block 2 will have increased capabilities that will improve accuracy and target recognition. In addition, the upgraded missile will have technology that will make jamming and/or deception difficult, allowing the ship to better account for environmental conditions and threat characteristics. This new iteration of the missile system will provide greater protection to the Royal Canadian Navy and allied forces beginning in the 2020s.
The NATO Seasparrow Consortium owns the intellectual property rights of the current Evolved Seasparrow Missile and its related systems. By being a member of the consortium, Canada is one of the owners of the technology, and is able to influence the future missile system’s design, level of support, timeline and costs, while leveraging each Canadian dollar invested through this international cooperation.
Canada’s participation in the MOU ensures that Canadian industry is eligible for contracts to develop, produce and sustain the new missile. In addition, any future sales of the missile to nations outside the Consortium will generate royalties for the Government of Canada.
The value of Canada’s contribution to the new Memorandum of Understanding is approximately $200 million. This investment ensures that the upgraded missile will meet Canadian requirements and can be integrated onboard the Halifax-class frigates with minimal changes and risks; it also ensures that the current equipment and Evolved Seasparrow Missile inventory can continue to be used, as the Block 2 missile will be compatible with the current missile launchers on board Royal Canadian Navy vessels with minimal changes.
The NATO Seasparrow Consortium allows countries to pool resources and share common efforts and knowledge, while retaining intellectual property rights. Canada’s participation with the NATO Seasparrow Consortium for development of the Evolved Seasparrow Missile Block 2 does not commit the Government to acquire these systems for any fleet. However, if the Evolved Seasparrow Missile Block 2 meets the design requirements, the acquisition of this upgraded system could address the Halifax-class frigates’ future need to counter evolving threats well into the coming decades.