Saab RBS15 Missile Family: The Winner’s Choice

Modern militaries are increasingly looking towards incorporating smart weapons and systems into their arsenals, leading to the adaptation of cruise missile technology to an increasing number of battle spaces

Issue: 3-2021 By Commander Soumitra Sahai (Retd)Photo(s): By Saab
By Commander Soumitra Sahai (Retd)



Wars of the future are going to compel defence establishments across the world to think big with more agile, precise, manoeuvrable and smaller but effective forces. The asymmetric nature of today’s military conflicts and emerging trends in the battlefield environment necessitates holistic exploitation of the entire technological spectrum available to secure war winning advantages.

A Common Solution for India

Saab’s RBS15 missile family has proven potential to meet the existing and future requirements of all branches within the Indian Armed Forces. The RBS15 missile family, has the potential to become the common missile for many attack purposes with its unique flexibility and ability to be launched from various platforms.

For last few years, Indian Navy had been pursuing their interest to procure a common medium range missile for its ship launched missile system for their frontline ships and mobile coastal battery. In this pursuit of Indian Navy, Saab had responded to the RFIs issued for these two programs involving Anti-Ship Missiles. These programmes are MMCB (Mobile Missile Coastal Battery) and the MRASM (Medium Range Anti-Ship Missile). However, over a period Indian Navy’s interest has been more focused towards procuring MRASM, which they may plan to induct in near future, and SAAB’s RBS15 will be an unbeatable addition to Indian Navy’s arsenal.

Today’s RBS15 missile is the culmination of a long process of development, continued improvement and capability growth that meet all the needs of modern navies and provides the optimum choice for antiship missions. RBS15 missile system is highly effective and deployable in all-weather, day or night operations. It has the inherent flexibility to be employed in various mission scenarios, blue water or littoral, and the ability to successfully prosecute and deliver a lethality package to destroy adversary assets. At the same time, the system needs to be simple to operate and maintain, have the ability to seamlessly integrate into ship systems and its command and control architecture, and possess an acceptable acquisition and life-cycle cost.

We see the RBS15 Mk3 as an excellent complement to already existing Brahmos systems, in such a way that it will provide an enhanced flexibility, with much smaller footprint, weight and at a much lower life-cycle cost. RBS15 can be integrated with Saab’s mobile radar Giraffe AMB, communication and command & control systems, together with the purpose-built vehicles, into an advanced total mobile land based solution.

Latest Generation Anti-Ship Missile

The RBS15 Mk3 represents the latest generation of advanced surface-to-surface missile (SSM) systems. It is a true fire and forget multipurpose anti-ship/land attack, sea skimming, cruise type missile. The missile possesses a high hit probability due to a flexible, pre-launch programmable, active radar seeker. It has unique ECCM capabilities and an approach profile that maximises the defence penetration potential by utilising a stealthy approach with a sea-skimming terminal trajectory and evasive manoeuvres.

The RBS15 delivers effectively best in class performance with a specified range of greater than 200 km (published) for the currently produced RBS15 Mk3 missile and incorporates a ~200 kg warhead. This gives RBS15 a huge advantage for both long distance blue water engagements as well as in the littorals where the missile may need to fly a longer trajectory avoiding certain areas or land features in order to prosecute a target.

RBS15 features a high resolution, active radar target seeker with built in electronic protection measures (EPM) and advanced signal processing, giving excellent littoral capability and high probability of intercept even when being engaged by electronic warfare (EW) systems. The radar target seeker’s long range and wide field of view allows for a much greater acquisition area and corresponding “no-escape” zone than; for example, passive infra-red (IR) sensors. The RBS15 active radar target seeker does not suffer the significant levels of degradation as experienced by IR sensors in adverse weather conditions. The highly programmable seeker allows for detailed customisation and optimisation of attack profiles and the missile’s ultra-low sea skimming capability, terminal evasive manoeuvring and programmable seeker modes maximise the probability of a successful attack.

Once fired, the RBS15 is able to independently and autonomously navigate to and engage its target without further operator input required. The warhead has demonstrated its ability to destroy or critically damage even extremely large ships with a single strike. Competitor missiles may require two or more hits to have the same effect as a single RBS15. The warhead size also contributes to the missile’s ability to effectively destroy land based targets; an important additional capability for the missile system.

The RBS15 overall weight and footprint are somewhat larger than its nearest competitors. However, these differences are more than offsetted by the corresponding range and lethality benefits gained in the design. Even more importantly, in terms of mission effectiveness, if the naval commander is able to effectively destroy the target with one hit, there is less need for additional missiles on-board.

RBS15 Mk3 Missile Design

Each missile is contained in a canister, which serves as launcher as well as environmental protection throughout the missile’s life cycle - a round of ammunition concept. The missile is approximately 4.3 meters in length, 0.5 meters in diameter, and weighs 660kg after launch. The RBS15 is equipped with two smaller Booster-Rocket Motors (BRMs), and due to this feature, it does not require any blast protection on deck, which makes the missile more flexible in placement even onboard small ships.

The target seeker utilises a Ku-band active radar with jittered PRF and frequency agility providing inherently good ECCM characteristics. The wide antenna and the very short high power mono pulse provide excellent angular and range resolution. The RBS15 navigation system utilises both GPS and an Inertial Measurement Unit allowing it to provide a high level of accuracy in all situations. The warhead is large and powerful, optimised for maximum damage to ships and with a pre-fragmented HE blast. The instantaneous or delayed initiation of the warhead is triggered by direct impact or a proximity sensor.

The state-of-the-art design of the RBS15 Mk3 results in high availability, reliability and maintainability and long maintenance intervals, thus the cost of ownership is very low during the system’s specified lifetime of 30 years.

A Proven Missile System

The RBS15 has already proven itself a market success. Versions of the system are currently in service with several nations around the world including Sweden, Finland, Germany, Poland and Croatia in Europe.

In 2005, Germany selected the RBS15 after conducting a detailed technical, tactical, and operational analysis of all competitors. In 2020, Germany again showed the RBS15 to be their ASM missile of choice; signing a second contract for the purchase of additional RBS15 Mk3 missiles as well as an expanded maintenance and support capability. Additionally, the German Navy decided that all Harpoon missiles in their inventory shall be replaced with RBS15 Mk3. Sweden has also recently contracted to acquire new RBS15 missiles to arm the new Gripen E aircraft and upgraded Visby corvettes.

The RBS15 has proven its capability claims in numerous live fire evaluations. In March 2020, the Swedish Armed Forces successfully validated the function and capability of their legacy systems during a live fire exercise; firing multiple missiles from multiple land, sea, and air platforms in a coordinated strike on multiple targets. No other ASM system in the world has been tested as comprehensively as the RBS15 was in this scenario and the missile clearly showed the high reliability and capability it delivers to the naval commander. The latest versions of the RBS15 currently in service offer even greater performance benefits than these earlier generation missiles.