For 50 years, the NATO SEASPARROW Project has delivered on its mission to provide navies with an effective self-defense capability against some of their most serious threats. From ambitious beginnings, the project has grown to meet new and evolving threats, and to exemplify the concept of a Smart Defense initiative. The NATO SEASPARROW Project’s long history chronicles developments in technology, and partnerships between industry, government, and military that have made this the longest running cooperative weapons project.

In 1966, the United States approached NATO’s Conference of Naval Armaments Directors (CNAD) with a proposal for a shipboard self-defense system to counter the growing Anti-Ship Missile (ASM) threat. Later that same year, the NATO Naval Armaments Group (NNAG) established Project Group 2 (PG2) to evaluate the possibility of a cooperative program to develop an ASM defense system. PG2 consisted of Italy, France, Norway, and the U.S. Observers to PG2 included Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

The study was ongoing when tragically, in October of 1967, the Israeli destroyer Eilat was sunk by an anti-ship missile. This proved to be the catalyst for NNAG approval of the PG2 recommendations to embark on the cooperative development of an ASM defense system built to improve the existing U.S.-developed AIM-7 Sparrow missile by modifying it to have folding wings and clipped fins.

Among the 15 NATO members at the time, leaders from four nations (Denmark, Italy, Norway and the U.S.) approached CNAD with a proposal to form a NATO project. Approval was granted, allowing the four nations to proceed. On 10 June 1968, the four founding members completed signature of the memorandum of understanding entitled, International Development of the NATO SEASPARROW Surface Missile System, which established a project that likely succeeded beyond what they imagined.

October 1969 – Signing the $23 million NATO SEASPARROW contract is Rear Admiral Mark W. Woods, Commander, Naval Ordnance Systems Command. Seated are (l to r): A. Abate, Raytheon; RDML Woods; CDR F. Tønnessen, RNN; Dr. J. F. Shea, Raytheon. Standing are (L to R): CAPT S. T. Counts, USN, NATO SEASPARROW Project Manager; LCDR P. I. Bledsoe, USN; LCDR F. Andersen, RDN; LT A. Pescatori, IN.

10 July 1968 – 1st NATO SEASPARROW Project Steering Committee (NSPSC) Meeting – Washington, DC.