An update on MBDA’s new Meteor long range air-to-air missile and new precision SPEAR weapon programmes.
This is a full article published in Aerospace International: September 2012
MBDA’s Meteor consists of three sections — the missile seeker equipment in the nose cone, followed by the warhead and finally the rocket motor and ram jet.
Meteor is a new beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) system being developed by European defence manufacturer MBDA for six European nations — France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Germany and the UK. Designed to be used aboard the Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Gripen and the Dassault Rafale , Meteor also has the potential to be deployed from the Lockheed Martin F-35 JSF. The Meteor contract was signed by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) in December 2003 on behalf of the six nations, all of which are also supplying different components for the missile.
Meteor being test-fired from a Saab Gripen (MBDA).
The missile can be fired from long-distances and is guided by an active radar seeker which uses enhanced technologies drawn from MBDA’s Aster and Mica missile programmes. It is also capable of engaging air targets autonomously by night or day, in all weather and in severe electronic warfare environments and is fitted with both a proximity and impact fuse to ensure total target destruction in all circumstances.
“Our principal requirement was to improve on the AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM), in particular sustained performance and a no escape zone,” explains Andy Bradford, chief engineer and project head of the Meteor programme. “Although the Meteor is not initially as fast as current MRAAMs, it is throttleable and has a much longer endurance and longer range.”
Meteor fitted to a Gripen (MBDA).
The Meteor is fitted with external air intakes and air ducts which are closed until the missile is clear of the launch aircraft. After the weapon has been dropped, the engine is started. Once the missile has achieved spontaneous sustained ignition in the initial boost phase, the air intakes are opened, enabling the weapon to transition to ram-combustor ignition and then to continuous throttle control.
“Speed control is in three phases,” says Andy Bradford. “First Meteor accelerates to cruise speed, then it maintains a speed dependent on the range it has to travel and finally accelerates towards the target once it is close. The ideal aim is to use up the fuel just as you reach the target.
Since the contract was signed, Meteor has been test flown aboard a Eurofighter Typhoon, Gripen and Rafale. In 2005, live catapult take-off and landings were performed using a Rafale from the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to confirm Meteor’s handling characteristics. Over 100 propulsion system ground firings have been carried out together with 40 seeker data gathering sorties. Four eject launcher jettison tests have been conducted from a Eurofighter while 21 test firings have been carried out.
A Meteor missile is test fired from a QinetiQ Tornado fighter (QinetiQ).
The pre-production guided firing campaign was conducted at a number of test ranges, including Vidsel in Sweden, the Hebrides in Scotland and Parc Aberporth in Wales. The test firings were conducted from a Gripen and a Tornado fighter, including firing at targets flying at altitudes both above and below the aircraft, as well as at different altitudes aiming at slow and fast-moving targets approaching and moving away. The trials included testing how well the missile released from the aircraft, how the missile seeker coped with finding targets through ‘clutter’ and the robustness of the launching aircraft’s airframe while manoeuvring before and after launch. The firing campaign also tested the missile against both missile countermeasures and electronic protection measures (EPM).
“The tests achieved all primary and secondary objectives and the firing campaign is now complete, producing good results and good performance,” concludes Andy Bradford. “Although we did discover some technical problems and system anomalies, we were able to clear them for the final tests and prove that the missile does what it is meant to do, inspiring confidence for the future.
A Meteor undergoes static tests at MBDA (MBDA).
Live and inert ground tests are also well advanced which test likely scenarios of how the missile will be handled between manufacturing and launch — including tests of what happens if it is dropped on to the ground — as well as how it will cope with different storage environments when not being used.
The Meteor programme is currently near the conclusion of the pre-production phase with the first production weapons due by the end of the year.
Artist’s concept of MBDA’s SPEAR missile deploying its folded wings after being launched from an F-35’s weapons bay (MBDA).
Another new missile design that MBDA is working on is SPEAR (Selective Precision Effects At Range) to meet a new capability requirement from the UK MoD for a network centric stand-off air-to-ground weapon for the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II fighter. “The requirement is for a weapon that can be launched at extended ranges to rapidly engage fixed, mobile, re-locatable and fast-moving targets,” explains MBDA’s export working group leader Rob Thornley. “The missile is designed to be difficult to counter and can be deployed for day and night operations in all weathers in hostile and complex environments.”
Yes, they will go in! How eight SPEARS will fit into the JSF weapons bay (MBDA).
The F-35 will be able to carry up to eight SPEARs at a time, four in each weapons bay. During storage, the missile will be upside down but will right itself after being launched from the bay and will deploy two folded wings, similar to those fitted to the Stormshadow missile. “Because of problems with US ITAR requirements, we will probably go to a European supplier to make the launcher,” states Thornley. “It’s not a very nice environment in the bay and there are significant technical problems with existing launchers, particularly the challenge of preventing the missile deteriorating over time if not used.”
The final design of SPEAR is still under development but the guided weapon will have a stand-off range of around 100km and will have a significantly faster time to the target. “Unlike glidebombs, SPEAR will be able to work against headwinds,” explains Thornley. The new missile will be about 2m long and will be fitted with a multi-mode seeker, multi-effects warhead and GPS/INS data links. SPEAR will have three fins and turbojet propulsion. The engine supplier has also yet to be decided.
The assessment phase of SPEAR will continue until 2014, after which it will move into demonstration and development with a final design planned for 2018.
Aerospace International Contents – September 2012
News Roundup – p 4
Living space – p 12
UK research into space medicine
Letters – p 15
A case for expanding Heathrow
Flight of the Meteor – p 16
MBDA tests future missiles
Relentless — Bell fights back – p 18
Bell Helicopters’ new 525 Relentless
Flying the flag – p 20
Report on the 2012 Farnborough Air Show
Plane speaking – p 26Interview with Bob Delorge, ceo of Raytheon UK
Airbus in uniform – p 30
Airbus Military’s ever-expanding family
The last word – p 34
Keith Hayward on the economic implications of Airbus’ new US manufacturing facility
This is a full article published in Aerospace International: September 2012. As a member, you receive two new Royal Aeronautical Society publications each month – find out more about membership.