Troops from 16 Regiment Royal Artillery held a ceremony to retire the Rapier missile system after 50 years of service as it is replaced by the Sky Sabre air defence system.
The event, attended by defence secretary Ben Wallace and deputy chief general staff Lieutenant General Sir Chris Tickell, was held for the regiment to receive its new colours which are normally flags used to identify the unit but, for this artillery regiment, its air defence missiles take up the role of the colours.
The Rapier missiles were symbolically driven off the parade ground at Baker Barracks, Thorney Island, before its replacement, the Sky Sabre air defence system was unveiled to a fanfare composed for the occasion.
The Rapier system was used in service from Kuwait to the Falklands war but was also visibly deployed to several London parks and tower blocks to combat any security threats during the 2012 Olympics.
The new Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM) used by the Sky Sabre has three times the range of the Rapier and can reach speeds of 2,300mph and can target fighter aircraft, drones and laser-guided smart bombs.
The system’s Giraffe Agile Multi Beam 3D medium-range surveillance radar can cover 360 degrees to a range of 120km.
The system is already deployed in the Falklands – and could potentially see action in eastern Europe amid the on-going tensions between Russia and the Ukraine.
Lieutenant Colonel Chris Lane, 16 Regiment’s commanding officer, said Sky Sabre and his troops were ‘ready and able’ to respond to threat facing Ukraine if required.
‘It’s designed to take on threats from the 21st century and if we are asked to deploy to other areas then we are ready to do so,’ he said.
‘Our men and women are absolutely operationally experienced wherever we have deployed with Rapier and are ready and able, having done the conversion courses to this very complicated and new 21st century weapons system to take on the next challenge or war or whatever comes our way.’
Troops from the regiment – which includes a number of personnel from the RAF – have spent months training on the new hi-tech system.
Lance Bombardier Sam Welden is an operator of the new kit, which is packed full of hi-tech gadgets to identify, track and destroy aerial threats.
The 21-year-old said: ‘This is a whole new world, operating this kit. Going from Rapier, which was very hands-on and “humping-and-dumping” – to this brand-new kit, which is very automated… It’s a massive change.
‘This is a wider capability which means we can deploy to a lot more places than Rapier ever could. We’ve got a bigger range, which means we can track aircraft and missiles from a lot further out. Rapier could track objects up to 16km away – we can now track missiles, helicopters and planes up to 120km. It’s absolutely astonishing that we can now do that.’
Lt Col Lane added the weapons platform was now able to integrate more with the other wings of the military.
He said: ‘It is a modern anti-air warfare system that will not only bring this regiment and the Royal Artillery but the British Army into the 21st century.
‘This kit means we can talk to a F-35 and the carrier strike group to be able to communicate what we see on our radars and they can share with us so we can inform our decisions to make fast, effective and lethal engagements.
‘This is absolutely a step change for 16 Regiment and the Royal Artillery and the army.
‘We have gone from an industrial air defence system with a standalone capability which didn’t communicate to other things but would defend a particular area, to now communicating with our other services, the air force and the navy to be able to share information and engage in a way we haven’t done before.’