New missile will 'kill fewer civilians'

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The Independent Online

A revolutionary missile system which, it is claimed, will significantly reduce the danger of civilian casualties was unveiled yesterday at the Paris air show.

Details of the Perseus programme were announced on the day that Nato admitted responsibility for an air strike which killed nine civilians. The Alliance’s Secretary–General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, expressed his “deep regrets” over the deaths which may have been caused by ¨weapons system failure" sending a missile astray.

The manufacturers of the Perseus, the multinational company MBDA, insist that the system’s “smart technology” will safeguard against such mistakes. The guidance system will be programmed for the missile to divert and self-destruct if it “sees” that changes had taken place in the expected landscape.

The Perseus, using “stealth” technology to avoid radar detection, will be supersonic with a top speed of 2,000 miles per hour with a range of 190 miles. Travelling low enough to skim the waves at sea and 20 feet above land, it could be used against both naval and land targets.

The production date for the missiles, which are expected to cost around £800,000 each, is yet to be decided, the manufacturers claim that on completion the system would be able to penetrate almost all existing defensive shields.

MBDA is based across western Europe, but is extensively involved in a number of Anglo-French projects in the pipeline following the agreement reached in London between Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron last year.

The Perseus team had carried out consultations with the Royal Navy and the French navy although no commissioning will take place until the programme has been further developed.

The 200 kg missile warhead splits into three in the last five seconds before impact to inflict the maximum damage. ¨Because it’s moving at a speed faster than sound the enemy will not even hear it coming¨, said Lionel Mazenq, the project leader.

“However; we fully accept that the very fact it can be so effective also means that we have to do our utmost to reduce the possibility of collateral damage. We intend to build in as many safeguards as possible to minimise that risk.

Although the Perseus is primarily designed to be used against naval targets, it can also be used on land against targets such as mobile rocket launchers used by forces such as those of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, although neither dictator is likely to be still power by the time the missile comes into use.

Mr Mazenq said: “We are looking at weapons systems of the future and trying to factor in all that happens in a changing world.”