Today, Lee looks at the latest contribution to NATO’s anti-air – the British Tracked Rapier from Battlefront
Much like the predicted outcome of a third world war, the air threat over the Team Yankee battlefield seems to have diminished as anti-air systems keep both sides aircraft (fixed wing or rotary) well in check. Vital to these efforts are the self propelled Surface to Air missiles and the UK contribution to this is the Tracked Rapier. Seeming as I still have no MILAN teams to review, lets take a look at this somewhat ugly but vital piece of kit!
The Rapier Surface to Air missile system started off as a towed system that would replace the older Tiger Cat (a land version of the Sea Cat missile) and Bloodhound systems as the UK’s only SAM. The Rapier followed on from Tiger Cat in using a command guidance system, but adopted a semi-automatic method (the gunner keeps the sight on the target and the computer compares that to the missile position and applies corrections). Whilst requiring more operator skill (and a visual sighting of the target) than a radar or infra-red guided missile, it had the advantage that it was harder to spoof the missile with countermeasures such as flares and chaff. The system was also perceived as being accurate enough to guarantee a hit from the missile so there was no proximity fuse and warhead – sheer kinetic energy did the work. This meant more missile weight, for a given missile weight, could be given over to fuel which increased range and/or speed. The latter was important for keeping the engagement cycle down, given the missile was not fire and forget.
The Rapier combined a search radar (giving the launcher its Dustbin-like appearance) with a visual target tracker. The crew were given a bearing by the search radar being acquiring the target visually in a wide angle of view mode, narrowing down to tighter field of vision for tracking accuracy. After that, one of the four rail mounted rounds was fired and tracked visually (a flare in the tail helped acquisition by the tracker), guidance updates being supplied by a small parabolic antenna on the front of the launcher.
The lack of a true all weather capability was addressed by pairing the launcher with the “Blindfire” radar system. This provided a tracking radar to track both the target and the missile – allowing targeting and firing when a visual acquisition was not possible.
By the mid-seventies, the Shah of Iran had requested a tracked version for his forces. A M548 flat bed load carrier (based on the M113) was adopted as the vehicle element, the launcher being placed on the flat bed. The parabolic antenna was moved to a raisable boon on the launcher and the missile rails extended to allow eight missiles to be carried, ready to fire. The cabin, designed for a two man crew, had to suddenly take three crew, the tracking computers and the visual tracker, mounted on a raising platform on the right of the cabin. Needless to say, things got very cramped and the M548 struggled to move quickly with this heavy a load. One neat bit of kit was a helmet mounted sight for the commander, to allow for an easier acquisition of target. A small claim of fame was that this helmet mounted sight made its way onto the crew helmets of the gunship crew from “Aliens”! Blindfire was carried on a separate tracked carrier, along with spare kit for the overloaded launch vehicle.
Unfortunately for the Shah, he experienced a “change in life circumstances” and the UK suddenly found itself the proud owner of the system, fitting out two regiments of the Royal Artillery.
The Tracked system never saw a firing in anger but the towed version was used in the Falklands to no great impact, partly down to poor sighting and partly down to a lack of spares (which were on the Atlantic Conveyor). It was eventually phased out in favour of Stormer (a stretched Spartan basically) mounted Star-streak missiles.
The Battlefront Tracked Rapier comes in a box of four, giving us a complete unit for the Iron Maiden Tracked Rapier SAM section. Each carrier comes with a resin hull and metal track and launcher components. We also get a sheet of decals and the obligatory unit card.
The assembly of the M548 element of the model is straightforward enough – glue tracks to the hull and fit the track guards if desired (they seem to appear on and off in service models).
The launcher is slightly more complex. The upper and lower missiles are glued together, then glued in the armoured enclosure (there are two and they are handed). This was all pretty straight forward.
These are then glued to the central launcher structure with a peg in socket fit. Finally, the antenna boon gets sort of shoved in between the enclosures and the launcher. I found it hard to get a decent fit of this element, having to file down the boon’s arm to fit in the gap and still getting quite a wonky fit – as we will see in a moment!
The ready launcher carrier
The Blindfire carrier is not present but doesn’t really need to be on the already crowded Team Yankee table. The front of the actual missile launcher is devoid of any detail, not that the real life example had much beyond a couple of mountings. It also needs a good clean-up – something I hadn’t done apparently.
The rear of the launcher has more detail although the moulding is far from crisp. You can also see that I have the launch boxes mounted one higher than the other – something I need to fix now I see it as that is causing the boon to be at an angle. The fit of the boxes to the central launcher does little to assist correct set up – presumably so the player can set the angle to what they want when building (unlike the fixed elevation of the Gepard for example). The M548 has the rear smoke launchers present.
Side detail is okay, nothing special but all the main features are captured. The handles on the doors and edges of hatches looked a little rough but that may be because the crisp lines of the plastic spoil the rather retro hand sculpted BF resin offerings.
The front detail of the M548 is okay. The smoke launchers are present as is the light cluster and weird window arrangement. The cover over the light cluster is a bit angular – the real version seems more curved. The tracks look a little rough, again compared to the nice plastic ones we get on a normal M113.
All in all, its not a truly great model. But its is at least ‘good’, easily good enough for what is needed.
In The Game
The Rapier is a very hard hitting SAM – the hardest one in the game so far. Its range allows it cover the whole battlefield on a 6×4 table with relative ease, out-ranging the Roland and SA-13. The Rate of Fire is equivalent to the Roland but its the firepower of 3 that really sets it apart. If you get hit by a Rapier you are going to have a bad day. I’d say the game is flattering the Rapier a little – its performance in the Falklands makes RoF 3 seem very good for a non-fire and forget missile that had a decidedly poor hit performance (albeit exasperated by circumstances).
The Team Yankee issue with representing all-weather systems is again present. Despite having the Blindfire to execute non-visual engagements, the Rapier is limited to “Infra-Red” in game, the same issue the Roland had for Leopards.
That niggle aside, at 6pts for four Rapier its hard not to fit the unit in an army as its going to close down the airspace very well. Backed-up by a few Blowpipes (to be covered in the future) then the Soviet Bear will have a hard time bringing air to bear. I can’t see my Brits leaving home without them.
The Rapier box comes with everything you need for the solitary unit afforded by the force diagram, costing £33. That translates to £8.25 a model (before the typical 10% reailer discount) which – factoring in card and decals, compares well with QRF’s offering at £8. There aren’t many other options out there so BF have the market at the moment.
All in all, much like the real world version, the Battlefront Tracked Rapier is a decent model, at a decent price with a better than decent stat line. Whilst the model could be sharper and easier to build it does the job and looks decent enough lurking at the back of the table.
Until next time.