Royal Canadian Navy fires 1st sea-to-shore precision Harpoon missile
New weapon would have been valuable in 2011 Libya conflict, military expert says
For the first time in its history the Royal Canadian Navy has successfully fired a ship-based precision missile at a target on land.
The frigate HMCS Vancouver fired the missile last week off the coast of California during a joint training exercise with the U.S. navy.
The Harpoon Block II missile is an improved version of the anti-ship missile carried by Canadian frigates for decades.
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Before the upgraded weapons system was installed, the only way for a frigate to attack a target on land was to use its 57-mm main gun, which has a range of only 17 kilometres, compared with 124 kilometres for the Harpoon Block II.
"This would give the Canadian military the ability to sail in the Mediterranean Sea and strike targets in Libya," says Elinor Slone, a professor of international relations at Carleton University and a former defence analyst with the Department of National Defence.
"If we were to send special forces into Libya, they could call in strikes against ISIS, which has now infiltrated Libya, so there's going to be a necessity for some sort of action there," she said.
Canada's allies such as the U.S. navy and Britain's Royal Navy have been able to fire missiles at land targets from the sea for decades, primarily with the larger Tomahawk cruise missile. Sloan said Canada's navy has been asking for this weapon for the past 20 years.
Missiles could have helped 2011 Libya mission
During the NATO led mission in Libya, HMCS Charlottetown patrolled the Mediterranean coast. On May 30, 2011, it came under rocket attack, although the ship wasn't damaged and none of the crew was injured.
Sloan suggested that if the NATO coalition had more precision-guided weapons such as the Harpoon Block II at its disposal during the Libya campaign, the conflict might have been resolved in the summer of 2011 rather than October of that year.
The new missile system gives the navy the ability to defend itself when attacked, in what naval planners call littoral warfare — conflicts in the coastal regions of the world.
The 12 Halifax class frigates in the Royal Canadian Navy can carry up to eight Harpoon missiles each.
The frigates, commissioned between 1992 and 1997, are now receiving their so-called midlife updates.
The $4.3-billion program involves replacing much of the ships' systems, including weapons, sensors and damage control. All 12 frigates are expected to be back in active service by 2018.
"Years of work and innovation have led us to this point, and our sailors now have one more reason to hold their heads high," said Commodore Jeff Zwick, Commander Maritime Fleet Pacific in a release. "The success … demonstrates the navy's commitment to providing a modern, flexible, and combat-capable maritime force — not only above, on, and below the seas — but one that is now also capable of striking from sea to shore."