Defense Media Network

NATO SeaSparrow Celebrates 50th Anniversary

The SeaSparrow program exemplifies “Smart Defense”

Courtesy of Surface SITREP, published by the Surface Navy Association (

Member nations of the NATO Sea Sparrow Consortium met in Orlando in November for the 108th NATO SeaSparrow Project Office Steering Committee meeting. The consortium manages the development and procurement of the NATO SeaSparrow Missile System (NSSMS), and includes the 12 nations currently participating in the long-running international missile program.

The NSSMS is installed on over 150 ships. Four nations (Denmark, Italy, Norway and the United States) inaugurated the program in 1968. Today the program includes Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the United States.

The RIM-7 NATO SeaSparrow missile was upgraded to become the RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow Missile (ESSM) in 1991, and the new version called ESSM Block 2 is under development. Ten of the 12 SeaSparrow Consortium members participate in the ESSM Block 2 development program,

The steering committee meets twice a year in one of the member nations. In addition to the member nations, several other countries have procured the missile for their navies.


Smart Defense

A special session of the Orlando meeting celebrated the five decades of accomplishments of the consortium. The keynote address was delivered by the Chairman, NATO Naval Armaments Group (NNAG), Portuguese Navy Rear Admiral José Belo.

“It took leadership to create the NATO SeaSparrow project,” said Belo. “That leadership began in the NATO Naval Armaments Group or (NNAG); the group that I am privileged to chair.”

Belo discussed threats to the alliance, and how shocks to the maritime system caused by regional conflicts, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and war all have potential global impact.

“We face security challenges and instability. International terrorism, the potential threat of non-state actors, and the risk of failing states continue to be a challenge. The significant change in the last few years, though, is the return of peer competitors, the threat of inter-state war, and, in particular, competition for control of the seas by a resurgent Russia,” Belo said.

Belo recalled the significant Soviet anti-ship missile threat in the 1960s. “The NATO SeaSparrow program was born from a small group of nations that recognized the threat and acted. NATO SeaSparrow has adapted over the years to address the advancing missile threat, but the latest cruise missiles, and hypersonic missiles are a challenge to our operations.”

Over its 60 years, the NNAG has engaged in activities to improve NATO maritime capabilities. For example, NNAG has engaged in nearly 100 NIAG studies, many have resulted in projects like the NATO SeaSparrow. In 1975, the NNAG initiated a study on the second-generation anti-ship missile that helped inform the Kormoran, Tomahawk and Harpoon programs.

Belo said that NNAG is proud of the NATO SeaSparrow program, saying it is one of the best successful examples of international cooperation. And, he said, it exemplifies the alliance’s concept of Smart Defence.

Smart defence refers to a cooperative way of generating modern defense capabilities that the Alliance needs, in a more cost-efficient, effective and coherent manner. Through Smart Defense, allies are encouraged to work together to develop, acquire, operate and maintain military capabilities to undertake the Alliance’s core tasks.


Bigger than a missile program

“We are bigger than a missile program,” said Rear Adm. Douglas Small, who spoke at the anniversary dinner, held at the Kennedy Space Center. “What we do may be small by every day global comparison but strategically we are an important component of strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defense capabilities.

Small said that the consortium has been the model for how nations can share resources, cooperatively develop, produce and sustain the vital equipment that support the nations’ militaries.

“And after 50 years, it seems everything old is new again. We find ourselves once again in a global competition with revisionist hegemony who seek to re-write or at least re-interpret the rules to be more in their favor. We find ourselves dealing in the Far East with a nation practicing predatory economics, and militarizing the world’s most congested sea lines of communication. And in the East we find ourselves dealing with a Bear bent on wreaking havoc in everything – from annexing sovereign nations to wrecking countries’ computer networks to sowing discord in our democratic institutions.”

Small noted that as a network of allies and partners across the globe, NATO has an edge over adversaries and potential competitors. “This is our collective strategic advantage. Through alliances like NATO, we undergird the rules-based international order that is responsible for the relative peace, stability, and prosperity we’ve enjoyed since the end of World War II. Because of this network, we and our allies have the ability to project all forms of Allied National power – diplomatic, humanitarian, and military – at a time and place of our choosing.”

At the dinner, Small recognized Lenny Aberg of Raytheon Missile Systems, who has been with the program since its very early days.

“Lenny started with the program as a Raytheon intern in 1969,” said Small. “He was personally involved in the original operational SeaSparrow testing on board USS Downes, and has worked on every modification of the Mk 57 SeaSparrow System since its origination, including the integration of ESSM Block 1 and now ESSM Block 2.”

“It’s been a real privilege to have worked my entire career as a systems engineer on the NATO SeaSparrow project,” said Alberg. “I’ve been with the program since its inception, starting with the first development contract awarded in 1969 to Raytheon.  Not only has it been exciting to have followed the incredible technological advances over that period of time, but just as rewarding has been working with all the different nations and international industry partners.  I’m very proud to have been part of this outstanding international project which continues to advance and grow in order to meet the evolving threat and support our warfighters.”

“Lenny Aberg has been a vital contributor starting as a new college hire assigned to the initial development contract and then work his way up to be the program chief engineer for the past 15 years,” said Paul Ferraro, vice president for Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems. “Lenny’s technical achievements combined with his unwavering commitment to the program and the customers he serves is extraordinary and unequalled in the industry. He has been a key resource and a driving force behind the quality products Raytheon has delivered and the NATO Seasparrow Consortium has deployed throughout the world.”


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...