Commando heavy weapon specialists tested their ability to down enemy air power by hitting the Welsh ranges – and hitting drone targets thrown at them.
The High Velocity Missile is the Corps’ last line of defence against jets and helicopters – a lightweight, portable weapon which can be fired over the shoulder or from a specialist launcher.
It’s operated by Air Defence Troop – one of the commandos’ three specialist heavy weapons teams (the remaining two are anti-tank and mortars) – who headed to Manorbier Range near Tenby to test the missiles… and test their aim.
The HVM missile has a first-stage motor which throws it forward from the launcher after which the second stage known as the “bus” kicks in and boosts the missile to over 2,000mph – more than three times the speed of sound, or faster than a rifle bullet.
The “bus” burns out after less than a second and then three small “darts” separate which are guided to the target by the operator using a laser beam, directed by a small joystick on the launcher known as the aiming unit.
Months of planning was completed before the Plymouth-based marines rocked up in south-west Wales.
Each operator has to complete hundreds of shots on a simulator to prove that they are ready to fire a live missile by repeatedly tracking a target drone with a laser.
Those drones – Banshees, about two metres long and designed to survive the impact with the missile – are fitted with a sophisticated radar which allows the controllers to estimate if the missile would have destroyed a full-sized aircraft.
And each missile launch is studied in detail by technicians from manufacturers Thales, who provide telemetry feedback which allows the Gunnery Training Team to evaluate the success of each engagement.
All of the science doesn’t detract from the thrill of firing a weapon which travels at Mach 3.
“Using the shoulder launch missile, I was lucky enough to shoot down the Banshee,” said Mne Anthony Darver, one of the specialists being assessed.
Given the training that preceded the exercise, luck didn’t come into it.