A revolutionary missile system which, it is claimed, will significantly reduce the risk of civilian casualties was unveiled yesterday at the Paris Air Show.
Details of the Perseus programme were announced as Nato admitted responsibility for an air strike which killed nine civilians. The alliance's Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, expressed "deep regrets" over the deaths which may have been caused by "weapons-system failure".
The manufacturer of the Perseus, MBDA, insists 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 have taken place in the expected landscape. The Perseus, using "stealth" technology to avoid radar detection, will be supersonic with a top speed of 3220km/h and a range of 305km. Travelling low enough to skim the waves at sea and 6m 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 ($1.6 million) each, is yet to be decided. The manufacturer claims that, on completion, the system would be able to penetrate almost all existing defensive shields.
MBDA is extensively involved in a number of Anglo-French projects in the pipeline following the agreement reached between President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister David Cameron last year. The Perseus team has carried out consultations with the Royal Navy and the French Navy, although no commissioning will take place until the programme has been further developed.