Weapon File: Martel

Blackburn Buccaneer Martel missile

Royal Air Force Blackburn Buccaneer toting one anti-radar Martel and two TV-guided Martels (sistemasdearmas.com.br)

In the 1960s it was becoming increasingly apparent that shipborne defences were becoming so strong that traditional direct attacks by aircraft using unguided bombs were becoming unfeasible. The answer therefore was to develop stand-off weapons; missiles that could be launched at the ship from outside the range of the target’s defences. It was actually the German Luftwaffe during World War II who pioneered the use of guided air-to-surface missiles to attack ships but the technology was immature. Anti-ship missile technology in the 1950s was a gargantuan affair with only the largest bombers being able to carry the missiles many of which were themselves the size of small aircraft. The 1960s saw the miniaturization of weapon technology to the point where fast jets could carry advanced attack weapons.

In 1964 Hawker-Siddeley in the United Kingdom and Matra in France decided to collaborate on a study in to developing a new missile that could be fielded by fast-jets such as the Dassault Mirage F.1 then in development. The development team settled on two types of guidance options for the new weapon that meant that two specific variants would have to be produced.

The first type was to be fitted with a radiation seeker that would use the target ship’s own radar emissions to locate it. This meant that even if the target ship was not sunk by the missile’s impact then at the very least the vessel would be “blinded” and unable to defend itself from a follow-up attack. However, the problem with this system was that if the target vessel turned off its radar then the missile would be unable to zero in on it. Also, if the target was a merchant ship with little or no radar emissions then the weapon would be effectively useless. Therefore this version was used in a supporting role rather than be used for attacking ships with the intention of sinking them.

This resulted in the development of a TV guided version that was steered on to the target by the launch aircraft. The TV guided version of the weapon had a small Marconi camera fitted in a clear and more rounded nose section. The images from the camera would be relayed to the launch aircraft where the pilot/weapons officer could then send corrections via a datalink pod. Carrying the pod did take up a pylon on the launch aircraft thus reducing the amount of weapons, external fuel tanks or Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) equipment that could be carried.

Anti-radar version (top) TV version (bottom) (blackburn-buccaneer.co.uk)

Anti-radar version (top) TV version (bottom) (blackburn-buccaneer.co.uk)

The two different types of guidance lead to the name “Martel” which stands for Missile Anti-Radar TELevision. To distinguish the two variants the anti-radar version was designated AS.37 while the TV guided version was designated AJ.168. In terms of weight the anti-radar version was a mere 34lbs heavier. Hawker-Siddeley took prime responsibility in developing the TV guided version while Matra took the lead in developing the anti-radar version. Despite their naval inception both versions would have secondary land attack roles and indeed for the French especially Martel would become the standard anti-radar missile of the Armée de l’Air through the 1980s.

The Royal Navy soon became interested in the weapon with the intention of fielding the aircraft on the Blackburn Buccaneer S.2. It came as a surprise to some that the Royal Navy was investing in new weapons for their aircraft since by this time it was clear that the Fleet Air Arm’s fast-jet days were numbered. In 1968 a series of weapon trials involving De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.1 XJ481 were carried out. The Sea Vixen was operated out of Boscombe Down and was modified with a new nose featuring a camera to record the launch and the necessary equipment for guiding the TV version in the observer’s station. Another Sea Vixen, XJ494, also participated in the trials. The tests showed the weapon was capable of a high degree of accuracy with weapons landing around the centre of a 100ft target under ideal conditions. The Matra team were also enjoying success with the anti-radar version and in so in 1970 work began on integrating the weapons on to the Royal Navy’s Buccaneers.

The Buccaneer S.2 had to be heavily modified to allow it to carry the weapon with the most notable alteration being the relocation of the inner and outer pylons as a result of the weapon’s wingspan. This was necessary to prevent the weapon from obstructing the undercarriage doors and provide clearance for additional weapons or fuel. Even then the pylons themselves had to be modified to carry the weapon. The weight of the missiles meant that initially the wing folding system simply couldn’t cope with them still attached but they were uprated later with more powerful hydraulic rams to compensate. The landing gear of the aircraft was also beefed up to allow it to land on a carrier with the weapons still attached; the British tax-payer wouldn’t allow the crew to ditch the weapons if they weren’t fired.

RAF Buccaneers armed with Martel (spyflight.co.uk)

RAF Buccaneers armed with Martel (spyflight.co.uk)

The observer’s station in the cockpit of the Buccaneer had to be modified to accommodate the equipment necessary to guide the TV Martel on to the target. The television display itself was mounted on the floor between the observer’s legs because of the lack of space for it anywhere else. The small control stick was mounted on the right-hand console of the rear cockpit for guiding the missile. Tests of the Buccaneer and TV Martel were carried out over the Aberporth firing range between 1970 and 1973. Trials with the anti-radar version began in September 1974 with Buccaneers travelling to France.

With the recycling of the Fleet Air Arm’s fast jets to the Royal Air Force in the late 1960s it was actually an RAF unit that became the first Martel operator in 1974 namely No.12 Squadron at RAF Honington. Royal Navy squadrons began fielding the weapon a year later. The RAF Martel-capable aircraft were designated Buccaneer S.2B while the Royal Navy’s aircraft were S.2Ds. When the Royal Navy finally relinquished their Buccaneers to the RAF in 1978 the S.2Ds were modified to S.2B standard.

Throughout the 1980s Martel was the weapon of choice for anti-ship attack and a number of attack profiles were developed to best utilise the weapon;

  • A “classic” TV Martel attack would see the Buccaneer racing along the ocean at around 200ft. The aircraft’s Blue Parrot radar would start to slave the weapon on to the target at a range of between 30-38nm allowing the weapon time to configure itself for its flight profile. During the launch phase the Buccaneer would “pop-up” into a climb to allow the datalink pod a clearer signal. The Martel would then cruise at an altitude of around 2000ft (this could be altered depending on the cloud base) before the Buccaneer observer took control during the terminal (attack) phase. Ideally he would aim for the target vessel’s own weapons in an effort to trigger secondary explosions that would sink the ship but more often than not the aim point was the main superstructure as this often presented the clearest image on the small screen in the rear cockpit. The missile’s motor continued to burn throughout the whole flight range which helped with its ability to penetrate the hull of a target ship.
  • The anti-radar Martel could be used in conjunction with TV Martel during an attack whereby the anti-radar version would suppress the target’s defences allowing the TV guided version to carry out its attack. It was not ideal, however, for the Buccaneer to carry both types of weapon at the same time because of the sheer workload that could overwhelm the observer. Also, the Buccaneer was only capable of carrying out one missile attack not the two types simultaneously. Therefore, ideally a second Buccaneer would suppress the ships defences while the first Buccaneer made its attack with the TV guided version.
  • The anti-radar version could be used in support of a conventional bomb attack on a target vessel. In this instance the Martel remains primed and ready for launch should the target vessel activate its radar to detect the incoming strike force. The anti-radar Martel would (hopefully) strike the target vessel destroying its exposed radar towers and inflicting significant enough damage on the vessel to limit the crew’s ability to respond to the following attack run by the Buccaneers.

The weapon was not perfect however and had its drawbacks. The TV Martel could only be used in daylight operations and in greater than 50% visibility. Some experimental Buccaneer crews reported that they could still detect a silhouette of a ship under a clear night sky with a bright full moon but training for night attacks was not standard practice. The anti-radar Martel was able to operate in day or night.

The radiation seeker that guided the anti-radar version could be tailored to suit a specific target radar which was a big advantage over some earlier anti-radar missiles but this had to be done on the ground before take-off which required military intelligence to determine just what kind of defensive radar the strike package would likely encounter. This was dramatically highlighted in 1987 when a flight of four French Jaguars launched to attack a Libyan surface-to-air missile battery. Not knowing which radar the Libyans were using each Jaguar’s Martel was tailored differently meaning only one was able to attack the target (which it did successfully). The anti-radar version was also susceptible to atmospheric conditions which reduced the seeker’s effectiveness.

Trials with the anti-radar Martel aboard an Avro Vulcan (examiner.com)

Trials with the anti-radar Martel aboard an Avro Vulcan (examiner.com)

Both missiles had a very big disadvantage in that their transit flight profile was quite high (up to 2,000ft) which made them easy to detect and engage with defensive fire. This was one of the many reasons why the TV Martel’s replacement, the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile, was designed as a sea skimmer to limit the target’s ability to detect and engage it during the terminal flight phase. Sea Eagle owed a lot to the Martel in terms of aerodynamic shape and configuration and entered service in 1988 replacing the TV Martel. The anti-radar Martel remained in service until the Buccaneer was retired in 1994.

Theoretically, Martel could have been fielded by a number of other RAF platforms. The RAF’s Nimrod fleet were capable of operating the weapon and crews did train predominantly with the anti-radar version but the Nimrod was primarily used for sub-hunting and organizing attacks on enemy ships by the Buccaneers.

During the 1982 Falklands War, Avro Vulcan bombers began to be modifed to carry the anti-radar version for defence suppression missions over the islands. While trials were carried out with Avro Vulcan B.2 XM597 firing a missile over Aberporth on May 6th 1982, in the end the smaller American AGM-45 Shrike was carried instead because the Vulcan could carry four of them instead of just two larger Martels. There were also plans for Handley Page Victors to field the weapon.

  • Wingspan : 3 feet 11 inches
  • Length : 13 feet 9 inches (anti-radar) / 12 feet 9 inches (TV)
  • Body Diameter : 1 foot 4 inches
  • Weight : 1,180lbs (anti-radar) / 1,146lbs (TV)
  • Warhead : 330lb delayed proximity fused fragmentation (anti-radar) / 330lb radar fused semi-armour piercing
  • Speed : Mach 0.84 (636 mph)
  • Maximum Range : 74 miles (when launched from altitude. Low level launches significantly reduced range)

6 responses to “Weapon File: Martel

  1. Pingback: Defence of the Realm – Weapon Files | Defence of the Realm

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