Advanced Short Range Air to Air Missile (ASRAAM)

Advanced Short Range Air to Air Missile (ASRAAM) is described by the RAF as;

The AIM-132 ASRAAM is a high speed, highly manoeuvrable, heat-seeking, air-to-air missile. Built by MBDA UK Ltd, the missile is designed as a ‘fire-and-forget’ weapon, able to counter intermittent target obscuration in cloud as well as sophisticated infrared (IR) countermeasures.

It equips Typhoon and Tornado, and will be integrated with the UK’s F-35’s as a baseline weapon.


Advanced Short Range Air to Air Missile (ASRAAM) History

To say ASRAAM had a rather convoluted history would be an understatement of epic proportions. It is also fair to say that we really were ahead of our time in the sixties and seventies.

The ASRAAM story starts with the Hawker Siddeley Dynamics Taildog.

Taildog first emerged in the late sixties as a counter to rapidly manoeuvring aircraft. It was revolutionary at the time, utilising thrust vectoring and off bore sight launch.

Taildog Missile

Taildog then became the Short Range Air to Air Missile (SRAAM-75) but even at this early stage, the RAF was considering an off the shelf purchase of the Sidewinder or Matra 550 missiles. By 1972, the government had placed initial development studies with Hawker Siddeley Dynamics for the SRAAM-75 missile. This was the world’s first thrust vectoring missile and included a novel air carriage system using a low drag canister, rather than free suspension of the missile on a pylon. The launch tube also contained a rear facing venturi to accelerate the missile clear of the launching aircraft at high speeds.

By 1973, SRAAM had a name, Mongoose.

The missile was built in three sections; the front housed the infra-red seeker, arming unit, warhead and electronics, the centre, main motor, and the rear, the thrust vector system and fins. Initial ground testing took place in 1973.

All was going relatively well until the 1974 Defence White Paper that saw significant budget reductions. The revolutionary SRAAM was downgraded to a technology demonstrator only. The RAF had decided to concentrate its funding on the UK variant (XJ521) of the US Sparrow missile.

A small number of flight trials from a Hunter were conducted in 1975. Nearing the end of the development phase, HSD submitted a request for further support from the Government, instead, they were notified that the RAF and RN would be purchasing the AIM-9L Super Sidewinder from the USA. Some funding was made available to continue development in infra-red technology for a future European collaboration on anti-aircraft missiles.

Advanced Short Range Air to Air Missile (ASRAAM) was actually a joint USAF/USN requirement for a Sidewinder replacement, first mooted in 1979. The US government proposed that if NATO adopted AMRAAM, British Aerospace could become the ASRAAM prime contractor, with coproduction in the USA.

In August 1980, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the UK, France, Germany and the USA. In essence, this committed the UK and Germany to not develop a medium range air to air missile and instead, purchase the US AMRAAM. In return, the USA would purchase the UK/German developed ASRAAM. France, as usual at the time, would decide later, it was developing the Mica. The MoU did not force any production decisions but simply committed each party to only developing one or the other type. The BAe Skyflash 2 was subsequently cancelled in favour of AMRAAM.

British Aerospace and Bodensseewerk Geratetechnic (BGT) would work on an ASRAAM pre-feasibility to study to complete by the end of 1981. This study would examine all guidance and aerodynamic control options. Air to surface potential would also be considered.

ASRAAM was expected to enter service by 1990, naturally, US industry was not happy at this turn of events, despite the cessation of European development on medium range air to air missiles to the obvious advantage of AMRAAM. The extended period was largely due to the availability of the Sidewinder AIM-9L, a very advanced version of the older Sidewinder.

Meanwhile, in 1980, SRAAM made another successful series of flight trials at Aberporth.

In 1981, the contract for continued development of AIM-120 AMRAAM was awarded to Hughes Aircraft. To develop ASRAAM, BAE and BGT formed a joint company in 1983 called Bodenseewerk BAE GmbH (BBG). Canada and Norway also took a small stake. With large stocks of AIM-9L’s, many thought the likelihood of the US buying ASRAAM low, and the fact that the US Navy was still pursuing improvements to Sidewinder (instead of waiting for ASRAAM) simply reinforced the doubts.

A two-year definition contract was awarded to BBG in 1985, by then, US-Europe defence industrial relations were cooling. The MoD’s insistence that the UL elements of the ASRAAM programme were competitively tendered also produce a great deal of managerial and financial friction.

Despite this, by 1986 the AIM-132 ASRAAM was making good progress and was making inroads into the European Fighter Aircraft (EFA) helmet system for weapon cueing. The emergent design made use of a rail adapter called the Missile Support Unit (MSU) that contained the interface electronics and cooling equipment. The MSU would be retained on the rail after firing, its main advantage being that it enabled fitting of ASRAAM to multiple aircraft types with minimal modifications.

After years if disinterest, in 1987, the US DoD raised an objection to the Missile Support Unit concept and demanded a redesign so ASRAAM was directly compatible with all Sidewinder rails. Each of the ASRAAM partners (Norway, Germany and the UK) proposed their solutions to the MSU issue and in 1988, the UK BAE proposal was accepted by the consortium. The programme was also now to be led by BAE.

In July 1989, Germany pulled out of the consortium, effectively ending the agreement. Various reasons are often cited such as the ending of the Cold War and full realisation of the capabilities of the Russian R-73 missile, but many think this was a smokescreen for issues of finance and defence industrial share.

Despite efforts by BAE to rescue the consortium, by late 1989, the UK had decided to go it alone. This allowed the project to be freed from competing needs and compromises of partners. Eventually, BAE selected a US design from Hughes for the IR seeker but in time-honoured MoD fashion, insisted on a competition. The runners and riders for SR(A) 1234 were BAE’s new ASRAAM, the German version of ASRAAM (called IRIS-T) and the Matra Mica, a version called MICASRAAM.

This added yet another year’s delay.

As a footnote, this insistence on competition was none other than Peter Levene.

During this year, it also emerged that the US would consider offering the latest version of Sidewinder to meet the new ASRAAM requirement if the UK recognised the MoU was effectively dead. Various shenanigans happened but Germany selected IRIS-T, the US, Sidewinder AIM-9X France, Mica, and the UK, the BAE ASRAAM.

Quelle surprise

In 1992, BAE was awarded a £570 million development and manufacture contract.

Subcontractors included Hughes Aircraft (IR seeker), MBB (warhead and sensors), Thorn EMI (fuzing), Royal Ordnance (rocket motor) and Luca Aerospace (actuators). In service date was expected to be 1997.

By 1992, the MoD had scaled back deployment and quantity options for ASRAAM. This was to the utter dismay of BAE, who had bid on the basis of an assured number of missiles. Plans for integration with Sea Harrier and Tornado ADV were also dropped.

In 1996, the first guided firing of ASRAAM took place in the USA, from an F-16, funnily enough. A year later, the Royal Australian Air Force shortlisted ASRAAM for its F-18’s. South Korea, Israel and the UAE also expressed an interest in the F16 ASRAAM integration work conducted in the UK to USA intergovernmental contract but their requests were denied by the US Government. In 1998, Australia selected ASRAAM for its Sidewinder replacement programme.


After some delays, cost overruns and even compensation payments to the MoD, the BAE AIM-132 ASRAAM entered service with the RAF in 2002, final programme cost was £823 million.

It is probably fair to say that the ASRAAM saga left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, many lessons, as they say, were learned.

In 2009, a Royal Australian Air Force F-18 conducted a rather impressive firing of the ASRAAM, a lock on after launch at a target behind the wing line.

The firing was conducted from an F/A-18 fighter aircraft, at low level and typical fighter speed, at a target located behind the fighter at a range in excess of 5km. The result was a direct hit on the target. The engagement simulated a “chase down” situation by an enemy fighter and successfully demonstrated the potential for an all-round self-protection capability with the ASRAAM.

Despite initial plans to integrate ASRAAM with the F-35 for both internal and external carriage, in 2012, the internal carriage for the F-35 was dropped. The original plan was for all UK threshold weapons (ASRAAM, AMRAAM and Paveway IV) to be qualified for internal carriage. There were proposals for a ‘trapeze launcher’ to enable safe release from the internal bomb but these were also dropped. Brimstone and Storm Shadow were also dropped from the Block 3 software release. Meteor and SPEAR Cap 3 are currently planned for the Block 4 release.

In October 2014, the MoD placed a £40 million support contract for ASRAAM with MBDA.

By 2014, the RAF’s stock of ASRAAM missiles were approaching their mid-life upgrade point but because MBDA were already in production with the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile and the two share a very high degree of commonality, they were able to simply replace the RAF’s stock with new missiles manufactured at MBDA’s new facility in Bolton at a lower cost than refurbishing them.

A lesson in commonality if ever there was one.

The £300 million contract was placed in 2015, with initial deliveries to take place in 2016.

These new missiles will have a number of improvements including a new seeker.

ASRAAM now equips RAF Tornado and Typhoon, and is a baseline weapon for the UK’s F-35 aircraft, although they will only be carried externally. ASRAAM is also in service with India and Australia.

In August 2016, the MoD and MBDA announced a £184 million contract for additional ASRAAM that will equip the UK’s F-35 fleet.

The United Kingdom’s (UK) Ministry of Defence (MoD) has awarded MBDA a £184M production contract for the supply of the highly capable infra-red (IR) guided air-to-air missile, ASRAAM, to equip the UK’s F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jet.

ASRAAM will be the first British designed missile to enter service on the F-35. ASRAAM’s large rocket motor and clean aerodynamic design gives it high kinematic capability to deliver superior end-game performance compared with other countries’ in-service IR missiles.

MBDA is currently under contract for an ASRAAM capability sustainment programme for the Typhoon fast jet and this new order to equip the F-35 will see the production of additional missiles. Value for money is ensured through the re-use of components from other MBDA products such as the Common Anti-air Modular Missile (CAMM), whilst also ensuring the benefits of a single IR missile across the fast jet fleet is retained.

The missiles will be produced at MBDA’s new £40M Bolton manufacturing and assembly site with engineering activities carried out at MBDA sites in Stevenage and Bristol. The overall ASRAAM programme, combined with associated workload around domestic and export programmes using the core CAMM system, is employing 400 skilled employees across the MBDA sites and the UK complex weapons supply chain. Collectively these orders also ensure that ASRAAM remains available for overseas customers and future exports.

This contract is on top of the £300 million contract awarded in 2015, bringing the total UK investment in ASRAAM to over £1.3 Billion.

Integration with F-35 will be carried out under a separate contract.

This latest variant of ASRAAM missile will enter service on Typhoon in 2018 and F-35 in 2022, when the existing variant will be taken out of service.

In March 2017, MBDA announced that the F-35 had successfully conducted its first live firing of ASRAAM.

Advanced Short Range Air to Air Missile (ASRAAM) Capabilities

ASRAAM is 2.9m long, 166m in diameter and weighs 88kg.

The fuse utilises both impact and laser proximity modes with the lock on after launch guidance provided by a 128×128 pixel focal plane infrared array seeker. The blast fragmentation warhead weighs 10kg

The missile body is wider than Sidewinder or IRIS-T and this gives a clue to the underlying operating concept for ASRAMM in comparison with other similar missiles.

The range is stated to be ‘in excess of 25km’ and variously reported to be around 50km.

It is this long range that makes ASRAAM different, instead of focussing on the extremely short range or within visual range manoeuvrability, the larger rocket motor on ASRAAM enables much longer range shots to be taken.

See first, shoot first, kill first, as the marketing blurb goes.

The Hughes (now Raytheon) focal plane array allows ASRAAM to be highly resistant to countermeasures and detect targets at extended ranges. ASRAAM can also be cued by the Typhoon’s PIRATE IRST or Helmet Mounted Sight  or Display (HMS/D) for a total passive engagement sequence.

ASRAAM can also be fired at very high speeds and G loading, locking on to the target before or after launch.

Although many like to compare it to IRIS-T or Sidewinder, the fact is they are different, with different concepts of employment.

F-35 Carriage

The original intent was for four ASRAAM to be carried internally.

This then changed to internal and external, some test fits were made on mock-ups and development aircraft.

F-35 Weapons Integration ASRAAM

Following the 2010 F-35C change and the subsequent reversion to F-35B, this was amended to external only. Brimstone was also dropped from the threshold list.

The current plan is to carry two ASRAAM on the outer wing low observable pylons, positions 1 and 11.


Together with Paveway IV, these are the ‘threshold weapons’. AIM 120-C7 AMRAAM will also be available and likely to be carried before Meteor is integrated as part of Block IV (together with SPEAR Capability 3).

Paveway IV, SPEAR Cap 3 (100B) and Meteor will all be internally carried.

MBDA F-35BNot shown above is Paveway IV, a single example could be fitted to the A-G station in each bay, or on external pylons as needed.

MBDA have shown images of an air dominance role fit of 2 ASRAAM on wing pylons and 4 Meteor in the bay. A multi role fit can be 2 ASRAAM on wing pylons, 2 Meteor and 8 SPEAR Cap 3 in the bay.


ASRAAM Block 6 is currently scheduled for integration with the F-35B as part of the Block IV software release.



Table of Contents

RN TLAM 4 Introduction
MBDA Brimstone layout on Tornado Brimstone
MBDA SPEAR 3 Image 2 SPEAR Capability 3
RAF Tornado GR4's at RAF Akrotiri Cyprus being armed with the Paveway IV Laser Guided Bomb. Paveway IV
Tornado Storm Shadow Storm Shadow
Royal Navy Submarine HMS Astute Fires a Tomahawk Cruise Missile (TLAM) During Testing Near the USA Tomahawk
FASGW(H) Missile Sea Venom
Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM) Martlet (Lightweight Multirole Missile)
HMS Montrose fires Harpoon Harpoon
F-35 UK Weapons Trials November 2014 ASRAAM & PAVEWAY IV shot 2 ASRAAM
RAF Typhoon Aircraft Carrying Meteor Missiles Meteor BVRAAM
Soldier Mans Starstreak HVM High Velocity Missile System During Exercise Olympic Guardian for London 2012 Starstreak HVM
Sea Ceptor missile system FLAADS(M) Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM)
Sea Viper HMS Defender Type 45 Live Fire Sea Viper/ASTER
Fire Shadow Loitering Munition Fire Shadow Loitering Munition
The final pre-acceptance trial of the GMLRS (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System) at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, USA. Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS)
Spike NLOS Tracked Vehicle Exactor (SPIKE NLOS)
Pictured are elements of the Manoeuvre Support Group MSG from 42 Commando Royal Marines, based at Bickleigh Barracks Plymouth, whilst conducting live firing of the new Light Forces Anti-Tank Guided Weapon (LFATGW) Javelin. 42 Commando Royal Marines were the first UK Armed Force to live fire the new Javelin system. The live fire demonstration was an early opportunity to see the Javelin being live fired in the UK. The future reliance on simulation,rather than live firing will mean that a demonstration such as this will be a rare event in the UK during the service life of the system. This image was submitted as part of the Peregrine 06 Photographic Competition. This image is available for non-commercial, high resolution download at subject to terms and conditions. Search for image number 45145988.jpg ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Photographer: PO (PHOT) Sean Clee Image 45145988.jpg from Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Weapon (ATGW)
NLAW Training Aid Next Generation Light Anti-Armour Weapon (NLAW)
Raytheon Defender Laser CIWS Lasers

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I believe Australia is using AiM-9X now instead of ASRAAM?

The Other Chris


Would be a grateful for a little expansion on the Vympel findings? Understanding is it was more manoeuvrable than anticipated, is this correct?

Do you have the figure for what the refurbishment of the ASRAAM stocks would have cost? Would be interesting to see how much the commonality approach has clawed back.c


A decent year-old image of a RAAF F/A-18A sporting ASRAAM on Op OKRA. As you say – the Super Hornets go with AIM-9X.

comment image

The Other Chris


Could you expand on the Vympel findings please? Understanding is it was more manoeuvrable than analysts initially thought, is that correct?

Also, do you have the figures for the cost of the refurbishment option for the ASRAAM stocks? Would be interesting to see how much the commonality work across complex weapons has managed to claw back from an… interesting… development history.


So the F35 will be unable to carry it’s primary self-defence weapon internally, instead having to carry it externally and thus compromising it’s low observability. Brilliant. Whoever decided that is clearly an utter cockwomble.

I believe there is a special pilon for ASRAAM on the F35 that allows the aircraft to maintain its low observability whilst carrying 2 ASRAMM.

The logic is that the low observable ASRAMM goes on the wings, allowing more unstealthy weapons with bigger control surfaces and pilons to fit inside the bays, aiming for the highest payload/observability ratio.


F35 does not maintain low observability with external weapons. If asraam was to be internally carried it would of been carried were the bomb goes so it became pointless.

With the wings full it certainly doesn’t, but with just an ASRAAM on each wing it is still suppose to maintain an acceptable level. As seen in the pictures, from the outside it is a minimalist weapon, which apparently help to preserve the low observability features.



Sorry but that’s not how it works. You can’t change the laws of physics. But the marketing department like to try


A ‘stealth pylon’ is going to have to be something bloody special. Maybe they are going back to the Taildog canister idea?


Just playing catch-up here… Excellent series TD!

I know what you’re all saying regarding ASRAAM on F35 but although the LO is compromised I’ve been lead to believe that it isn’t compromised that much.

There is a new “stealth” rail (whatever that is) and ASRAAM itself is very low observable already. Putting a couple on an F35 is nothing like shoving wing-tanks or Paveway IVs on. Added to the fact that we no longer have to use the trapeze launch and it all sounds much less risky, and much more exportable for a jet that can be seen by nearly everyone’s radars now anyway.


ASRAAM cannot in any way be low observable. It is cylindrical and has a domed nose. Basic physics means these surfaces will reradiate energy in all directions including back down the bearing of the searching radar, making it utterly unstealthy. That’s why low observable designs are faceted, not curved (the B2 gets away with if by incorporating a ton of radar-absorbing material). To make it less observable it will have to be enclosed in a pod or otherwise shielded, and there will have to be a ton of RCS analysis to determine how it will impact the overall signature (which is still pretty minimal even against even updated radars). On the plus side, IF it works, it frees up the internal bays for other ordnance. But I am not convinced.

Necessary Evil

That´s not how the B-2 gets away with it – why do you think they would build such a strange-looking airplane if it wasn´t stealthy? Because it looks cool?


The optimal shape for radar low observable aircraft is a flying saucer except they don’t fly that well so you try to get different shapes that try to get to that shape but are flyable. Care to guess where in the US this was tested at the height of the Cold War.

Asraam on a wing pylon is not stealthy if it were do you think they would have gone to the huge expense of making sure skin panels which are toleranced to very small numbers and that every appature on the airframe questioned any change to the OML of this aircraft is a really big deal. This is all marketing nonsense because what this aircraft is now expected to do in most if not all nations airforces is far more that it was ever designed to do due to shrinking budgets and serious cost overruns it’s not a coincidence that the US is now giving very serious consideration to restarting F22 production. There is insufficient space internal in the weapons bays to be true high end multirole.

Necessary Evil

Thanks NE, I’ll try and find time to study up on it. Gosh, much trickier than I thought, all this science stuff!


So if you want ASRAAM to be internally carried, how can it detect heat signature?


HMAFR, it’s cued to target direction and has a lock on after launch capability. Read the excerpt above, between the F16 and Typhoon images.

The Other Nick

Apologies if noted before but FlightGlobal reported MoD placed an order for £184 million of a new ASRAAM variant, uses a MBDA seeker, replacing the Raytheon one currently used, which includes its own cooling system instead of using the aircraft’s

Re. the F-35 states “The F-35 is due to reach initial operational capability for land-based operations with the UK in December 2018, but the MoD plans to use the current ASRAAM missile on the Lightning II until 2022. The point at which the production lines will cross over from the older to the newer variant has yet to be determined.
Integration of the CSP (Capability Sustainment Programme funded by £300 million Sept. 2015 contract) version of the ASRAAM on the UK’s F-35s will come under the Block 4 software upgrade that the aircraft will undergo”
Inference that ASRAAM needing Block 4 F-35 update which have as yet to be firmed up. ASRAAM may be included in Block 4.1 or 4.2, Blk 4.1 planned to be active in 2020 and Blk 4.2 two years later, so may be looking at 2022 before ASRAAM becomes operational on UK F-35B’s.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same


Only the CSP version. Current ASRAAM will be operational until then.

The Other Nick

Thanks APATS

If I understand correctly with the current ASRAAM the IR seeker goes active on launch and losses all contact with a/c. The CSP funded improvements includes a data bus connection between a/c weapon system and missile before launch, ability for mid-course guidance based on a/c radar updates, making full use of ASRAAM off-boresight capability and much improved multi-target engagement. One would presume an order of magnitude increase in the ASRAAM effectiveness.


I’m actually more curious about how the internal bays work when the aircraft is tilted at odd angles! From what I gather, the weapon drops past the internal bay parameters then ignites, but what happens when the aircraft is banking and you use the upper bay? Will it still drop and depend on luck? Have flight advisories on “no launch” parameters? Delayed launch until the aircraft levels out?

Wonder how it is handled?

Presumably these are some of the things checked for all the many millions spent on ‘weapon integration’


@Observer – Interesting questions. I would have thought there is some sort of forcible ejection to throw the missile clear of the bay rather than relying on gravity but even if that is the case a high-g manoeuvre in the wrong direction might be enough to counteract the force of any ejection mechanism. In that case though even my mobile phone has an accelerometer in it so you can be very sure that an F35 knows at all times what its current acceleration vector is and presumably the limits of any forcible ejection mechanism so I am sure the software would prevent an unsafe missile launch due to unfavourable acceleration and/or attitude of the aircraft at the time. Potentially, if the firing of the missile is considered to be the highest priority event then the software could even take into account current threats to determine whether it can safely take control of the aircraft and if yes then take a fire-missile command as permission to automatically adjust acceleration and/or attitude of the aircraft to the minimum degree necessary to enable safe missile launch.

As PE said, I’m sure this is a lot of what weapons integration is about and is probably one of the reasons it is so costly and time-consuming.


Asraam is a rail launched weapon not applicable to internal bay.

AMRAAM is ejected under force into the free stream. You see a number of video examples of these test on many different a/c on you tube


@Mark You can rail launch from an internal bay, the F-22 does that with the AIM9. The launch sequence is the doors opens the rail and missile is extended out and then the missile launches off the rail. The missile rail is canted out to make it clear the aircraft properly.

The Other Nick

The F-35B internal weapons bay is an inhospitable environment for for missile electronics/sensors due to the high temperatures and vibration caused by the exhaust during vertical take offs and landings. LM had problems meeting min. spec.for weapons bay, it will certainly degrade the allowable missile life flight hours.



Yeah I know but not on f35. No trapeze launch rail. If there was one developed it would locate where the air to ground store is.

Jeremy M H

With regard to both ASRAAM and AIM-9X for the F-35 I think it’s important to remember that F-35 is just coming online and both of those missiles have been around for a while. The thinking behind IR missiles goes back to the 50’s and 60’s really. The tech has improved but the employment and reason they exist is still pretty much the same as it was.

The SACM program seems as if it is the likely way forward over the next 10 years or so. I think that making AARGM-ER a program of record (AARGM with much more range sized for internal carriage on A and C models) you remove some of the cost and complications from the original T3 concepts where one missile was supposed to be an AMRAAM, IR seeker and HARM all wrapped into one. It lets you basically set out to build a dual mode (active radar seeker, IR seeker) air to air weapon. Plus by making it an air to air only weapon you can drastically reduce the warhead size which you can’t really do on a HARM replacement.

As F-35 comes into wide service I expect to see weapons change pretty drastically to suit it. It will be the biggest market opportunity for weapons makers and the most important platform to build for.

Brian Black

Wasn’t the idea for F35 to at some point to have rail-launched missiles, like ASRAAM, internally mounted on the bay doors themselves?

There was going to be a little swing that dropped down to let the missile clear the bay, but it was dropped in favor of a low observable external pylon, which has yet to leave the drawing board I believe.

Hopefully the LO pylon will still happen, the befits of freeing up more internal space are clear.


I’d want a quick rail-launched missile if I had someone on my six.

The last thing I’d want was extra drag (and a time delay) as the bay doors opened, especially whilst I’m jinking and pulling g’s.

Perhaps F35 is simply unsuitable for ASRAAM, the gun, and therefore A2A combat in general? Perhaps we should just leave F35 for strike and a couple of sneaky AMRAAM/Meteor up the enemy’s tail pipe?

This might sound like fantasy (Firefox) but I’d prefer a rear facing missile (which could be LO from the front) as I think F35 will spend most of its time running away from dogfights.


How slow do you think a bay-launched missile is, compared to a rail launch?
How often do you think it would make a difference?
Would you be willing to reduce your LO for a fraction of a second reaction time.

Historically, most aircraft shot down were unaware of their attackers until after they were hit.

Isnt meteor this primary A2A weapon for the F35? in which case putting the LO ASRAAM on the outside allowing more meteor on the inside is an acceptable choice?

We all know stealth is not “on or off”, so we have not suddenly blown billions of pounds of investment with this decision. Everything is a balance, this is a LO / payload trade off.


Been on holiday, but just to comment on the F35 launcher capabilities, the Tornado F3 Skyflash launcher was able to eject the weapon throughout the flight envelope: eg, from minimum flying speed to M2+, and between -3 / +7.5g by forcibly ejecting the missile into the airflow while restraining it in yaw and pitch. Shouldn’t be a problem for an air to air weapon, unless the F35 weight budget doesn’t allow for such a launcher.


Shark bait

Meteor maybe the air to air weapon on F35 in the late 2020s if somebody pays to integrate it and the Americans allow it to be included in the block 4 upgrade program. Neither are as yet certain.


Skyflash is not a rail launched weapon therefore is design allows for ejection away from the aircraft like amraam.

F35 was designed to be a self escorting light strike aircraft utilising bvr combat as its primary means of defence, it was assumed the main threat lay in surface to air engagement hence the limited internal air to air carriage capacity compared to something like a f22.

The Other Nick

Not new but the latest info have seen for F-35 weapons fit for Block 4, though not as yet not a program of record. Blk 4.1 & 4.2 hoped to be confirmed later this year, Blk 4.3 & 4.4 are wish lists. It is hoped for Blk 4.1 to start development as follow on to Blk 3.6 in 2018 and go live in 2020 with following updates at two yearly intervals, Blk 4.2 – 2022, Blk 4.3 – 2024 & Blk 4.4 – 2026.


Isn’t it a maximum of 4 ASRAAM on the external pylons? And 2-4 BVR (AMRAAM or Meteor) in the 4 internal plyons)?



In theory you could have 6 missiles on the wing stations and 4 internal. However it will depend what configurations are being flight tested and what the operational configuration clearance is.

In reality for what f35 brings to the party carrying any external stores should really be the exception rather than the norm.


“In reality for what f35 brings to the party carrying any external stores should really be the exception rather than the norm.”


The only time I’d expect the ASRAAM to be loaded would be on DLI or CAP missions.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

The capabilities that F35 and LO with the data fusion capability and something like Meteor brings to the party are going to require a major rethink in exactly how we plan air to air engagements. All of a sudden we have the capability to spring missile traps from LO assets utilising other assets as both a decoy/target and targeting info. Far more like a naval AAW engagement than before.

The capability to have a CAP of 2 or 4 F35 active and with external stores becoming the focus of the OPFOR but providing info for “shooters” who are Lo and passive to enagage the OPFOR from what they consider a non threat direction and at range is something that will require some thought and planning.

No doubt it is being “war gamed” now but to think of F35 as a traditional fighter or employ it as such is simply silly.

The Other Nick

How effective will the LO/stealth F-35 be when it becomes fully operational with Meteor in seven to ten years time hiding from the new generation radars.
For thirty years radars have used gallium arsenide (GaAs) as transmitter and receiver signal amplifiers.
Now Gallium Nitrade is coming online, GaN, operate at much higher voltages, temperatures, seven times that of gallium arsenide, are more power-efficient and have longer life, can switch at much higher frequencies for amplifying radio frequency (RF) signals and amplifies signal without adding much noise

With GaN a radar can search five times the volume of space in the same amount of time or track five times the number of targets as with the old radar, could detect and track targets 50 percent farther away because of the extra RF energy. Raytheon claims GaN MMICs are 75 percent less expensive to manufacture than GaAs.

The other major advance is the continuing progress in computer power allowing faster signal processing with advanced algorithms tuned to pick up stealth a/c from the noise and clutter. Both the Chinese and Russian’s using VHF/HF bands less affected by stealth angles and coatings.

Raytheon claims the current TPY-2 THAAD radar using the ‘old generation’ GaAs “…track a home run from a ball park from several hundred miles away.”If we take several hundred to mean three hundred, then this range is about 480 km. [The home run would have to be hit very high – over 17,500 feet – to rise over the horizon at this range.]  A reflective sphere the size of a baseball (diameter = 2.9 inches) has a radar cross section (RCS) of about 0.004 m2.  While this RCS certainly possible, it is lower than is usually used for a baseline number.  If we scale to a radar cross section of 0.01 m2, we get a range of about 600 km. “

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same


You do realise that all these claims are based on maximum performance in perfect conditions when they know where the target is :)
Engineers and scientists write these claims, operators just laugh as we automatically factor in the less than perfect conditions, inevitability less than perfect performance, combat conditions and the Murphy factor.

The Other Nick

@APATS I’m sure your correct, but it works both ways and stealth may be overhyped.
USN Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert speaking about the Navy’s next generation air dominance F/A-XX fighter at the at the Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo, Feb. 2015, some quotes.

” I don’t see that it’s going to be super-duper fast, because you can’t outrun missiles // It has to have an ability to carry a payload such that it can deploy a spectrum of weapons. It has to be able to acquire access probably by suppressing enemy air defenses // Today it’s radar but it might be something more in the future. // And you can’t become so stealthy that you become invisible — you are going to generate a signature of some sort // You know that stealth may be overrated…. If something moves fast through the air and disrupts molecules in the air and puts out heat – I don’t care how cool the engine can be – it’s going to be detectable”

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same


You just made my point for me, everything is detectable if you know where to look which is exactly what I said.
The secret is to combine LO modern weapon systems and tactics.


I have to say that the selected quotes makes it look like the good Admiral doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or at least is speaking against the common perception of low observable aircraft. The object is not to make the aircraft invisible, just harder to spot. You reduce the range at which the enemy can detect, recognise, identify and target your assets.
In the same way you can’t make a tank invisible, you still paint it in camouflage colours.
Any future aircraft is likely to incorporate LO features, because why give your opponent a free ride? If he can develop sensors to detect LO aircraft, force him to spend that, provided you can afford it.

The Other Nick

Another interpretation is that the good Admiral comments, the head of the US Navy at the time retd. later in Sep 2015. He would have had access to all the classified info. had no faith in the common perception of the effectiveness in LO/stealth a/c and was totally underwhelmed by it in light of the new paradigm in radar,IR, computers and AI. Time will tell but think the Admiral thought it hype and colossal waste of money.

El Sid

It’s not exactly news that the USN is far more sceptical about the benefits of LO than the USAF, they put far more weight on ECM and things like MALD-J. Which is one reason why the USN has Growlers and the USAF has F-22’s.

Jeremy M H

Different services have different views.

I have little doubt something like the AN/SPY-6 will be very effective, in relative terms, against a VLO aircraft. It’s a half billion dollar radar after all and it is huge. It has the advantage of being highly mobile as well. Most of these advantages don’t exist for ground based radars. You have the very large and likely very sensitive radars such as Green Pine or the THAAD radar. But as a practical matter they aren’t really mobile in a tactical sense once emplaced. On ground they are very large and very loud targets that are going to draw a lot of fire. At sea such systems can radiate, move around and are much harder to find and engage.

In many senses the Navy is right when it states stealth isn’t the end all be all. The thing is no one is really arguing that. The USAF is also invested in things like MALD-J and CHAMP and has electronic warfare aircraft of its own outside of Growlers (plus it crews some growler squadrons anyway). Whatever more advanced radars mean one would do well to remember the situation is correspondingly worse for the less stealthy aircraft. Jamming, suppression of defenses and standoff ranges will be considerably less for VLO aircraft than a conventional aircraft. Eventually the days of F-117 like unopposed strikes may end, but that doesn’t make radar signature management pointless.

Indeed we can see almost all nations currently developing or considering developing combat aircraft moving towards more signature management. People are voting with their budgets. It seems far more likely that rather than stealth being irrelevant it will simply become part of the cost to play going forward. Other than Gripen NG I don’t see a single development program of note that isn’t firmly grounded in the low observable with regard to radar camp. Indeed the only people pitching it as irrelevant are those without such a plane to develop or sell.

The Other Nick

Re: AN/SPY-6, the latest August report by the GAO states performance of the SPY-6 GaN engineering development model has exceeded requirements, demonstrating SPY+17 decibels, greater than 50 times the sensitivity of the SPY-1D(V) radar currently used on the Arleigh Burke Flight IIA destroyers. It not only the big and expensive radars using GaNs, e.g. in May 2014 SAAB launched five new AESA GaN radars to update Giraffe and Arthur models. SAAB states “These radars use leap-ahead design techniques that put them in a class of their own in terms of performance and capability”. One would hope but no signs that the MoD would be funding a GaN update of the Type 997 Artisan 3D radar.
If understand correctly Admiral Greenert’s philosophy was to put money into the payload and not the truck, so minimal on LO aircraft and max. on missiles so as to have the firepower to overwhelm the defences.


The Other Nick,
The Admiral’s comments, as presented, pander to the popular view that LO features are binary (i.e they are totally effective or utterly useless) and that if you can detect them, at all, then they are as good as dead. This is fundamentally not true.

There’s a whole debate to be had on the cost/benefit of LO features, on the aircraft or the weapons, quantity vs quality and many more

Lastly, I don’t know if it’s just me, but if I see someone using “paradigm”, “quantum jump/leap” or “game changer” I immediately assume that they are plumbing the depths of absurd hyperbole and really should be using terms like “incremental improvements across a range of parameters” In exceptional circumstances, the use of “synergistic” might be allowable.

On the ability of large ground, sea or airborne GaN radar systems being able to detect VLO/stealth aircraft I am sure they can at certain ranges based on the aircrafts approach vector but the missiles used to bring them down don’t have the ability to maintain a lock when they switch to their own terminal guidance radar IIRC . Please correct me if this is a misconception.


Think we need to be a we bit carefully with terms like stealth and very low observable. These can mean very different things to different aircraft and those nice marketing people will be casual with diffinitions.

When discussing low observable characteristics it incorporates more than just radar cross section. But within the radar domain it will include against what radar frequencies and over what azimuth is the aircraft low observable.

Flying wing designs such as the B2 will cover the biggest frequency range over the biggest azimuth, fighter configuration are much much more restrictive due to needing to be a fighter. Tactics and flight profiles and knowing where the enemy is, will be critical too.

With China ( probably not in our scope tho ) going to receive its first squadrons worth (12) ,of the fifth generation stealth fighter ,80,000lb class J-20 by the end of this year with an IOC at the end of 2017 / early 2018 is there a Western system capable of detecting and defeating one in service at present? The USN will be in a position were it may have to plan to defend against a stealth equipped opponent without the tools to counter it as the SPY-6 equipped Flight III Arleigh Burke’s will not be inservice by the time the J-20 squadron(s) are combat ready.

The Other Nick

Whilst CNO of the USN the Admiral reduced its budgeted buy of the F-35C by one-third 2016-2020 to fund new offensive missiles. 
Firstly the AARGM-ER, Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile Extended Range with $267 million in development funding 2016-20 with current guidance system and warhead of the AGM-88E with a new motor to counter the newer longer range land based AAMs. The equivalent RAF ALARM was retired in 2013 with no known replacement.
Secondly budgeted a precision strike weapons development program of $510million, the OASuW II a follow on to the single source OASuW I / LRSAM.( LRASM looks favorite in enforced competition for OASuW II), and developing a replacement for the land attack Tomahawk.
I would not call the Admiral’s policies on LO binary but as you say the cost/benefit on aircraft or weapons is a matter open to debate, no doubt on which side he came down on.
On “paradigm”, may be maybe not. The AN/SPY-6 has an increased sensitivity equate to a range increase of 266% compared to the current AN/SPY-1D(V).


Stephan, I believe that runs into Mark’s point. People have a lot of different ideas about “stealth”, but one thing it is not is “invisibility”. Stealth if you try to force it into land warfare terms is camouflage, it doesn’t make the person invisible, just harder to see. So “stealth” planes are always detectable. The real question is at what range and power/frequency/angle etc.

Necessary Evil

I thought I would try to add to the discussion since I have been looking into this question (the stealthiness of the F-35) recently. I am not one of those people who can tell you how a radar actually works, but I can look at what other people say and see if their arguments are logically consistent, or see if they may have failed to address certain issues that others have brought up.

If you try to find figures on this, you inevitably end up at Air Power Australia. Their calculations may or may not be inaccurate, but they usefully provide some of the Russian manufacturer´s specifications for SAMs, etc. Now I know what you are you going to say, but bear with me.

The National Interest is another site that has quite a lot of articles on stealth. In one of these articles ( they quote a former USAF electronic warfare officer´s views on how to kill a F-35:

´With a missile warhead large enough, the range resolution does not have to be precise. For example, the now antiquated S-75 Dvina—known in NATO parlance as the SA-2 Guideline—has a 440-pound warhead with a lethal radius of more than 100 feet. Thus, a notional twenty-microsecond compressed pulse with a range resolution of 150 feet should have the range resolution to get the warhead close enough—according to Pietrucha’s theory.

The directional and elevation resolution would have to be similar with an angular resolution of roughly 0.3 degrees for a target at thirty nautical miles because the launching radar is the only system guiding the SA-2. For example, a missile equipped with its own sensor—perhaps an infrared sensor with a scan volume of a cubic kilometer—would be an even more dangerous foe against an F-22 or F-35.´

So, with this insight I looked at the Russian manufacturer´s specifications for SAMs and ground-based surveillance radars. It turns out that none of their VHF band radars have the necessary accuracy for the tactic mentioned above. That means that these radars couldn´t be reliably used to guide a missile all the way to the target, and would therefore need missiles with their own seekers to complete the intercept. There is a Russian L band radar that meets the above standard though. So I tried to find out at what distance an L band radar could reliably track the f-35, and I found this:

It is written by three Hellenic Air Force officers, but since they mostly quote APA, it seems that they quite rightly only used open source materials. They take the APA calculations for the RCS of the F-35 in several radar bands including the L band, and use the cited 1m2 RCS detection ranges for several different radars to come up with the likely detection ranges for the F-35. The L band radar they use is an Italian one that actually has a slightly greater detection range than the Russian one mentioned above, and they calculate that it could reliably detect the f-35 at 61 NM.

So, this is where the bias or oversight of the APA analysis comes in. They only calculated the RCS figures for the f-35 from angles of 45 degrees or more off the aircraft´s nose. This is because the F-35 is by design much less stealthy from these angles. This design choice, along with its the aircraft´s performance, is basically the nub of APA´s problem with the f-35. This leads them to construct scenarios such as the following one:

´Figure 10. The pioneering Nebo M combines three existing 3D radars, the VHF band Nebo
SVU, the L-band Protivnik G and the S/X-band Gamma S1. All tracks are fused in the
command post. It is designed to counter l.o. threats like the F-35. Placing the radars as in
drawing, left, with respect to the threat axis, the VHF radar offers early warning, while the L-
and X-band radars offer finer track, illuminating the targets from angles where the RCS is
increased. Furthermore, Nebo M exhibits better jamming resistance ([80]).´

(the drawing can be found in the paper I linked to above).

This leads APA to conclude that F-35 is unsuitable for day one deep penetration missions against a state-of-the-art IADS. From what I have read, I would have to agree with this conclusion. However, this seems a slightly unfair criticism of the f-35 since it was never designed for this mission, which they tacitly admit:

´The result of increasing IADS capabilities and the degradation of the Joint Strike Fighter’s stealth design through the SDD leaves it with only one tactical option for penetrating an IADS environment.

That option could be best labelled as “shooting a path through defences”, which is essentially the “conventional” model pioneered and perfected during the Vietnam conflict and incrementally improved since then. In this model a strike package intended to penetrate an IADS will be escorted by aircraft armed with anti-radiation missiles such as the HARM family of weapons. These are launched in large numbers to destroy threat radars which continue to emit, and force others to shut down for fear of attack.´

Their reservations about the F-35s suitability for this latter tactic, however, really boil down to one thing: the F-35, by their calculations, would not be able to safely get close enough to these SAMs to use the SDB (whereas by their calculations the F-22 can).

This brings us back to the calculations I mentioned above, based as they are on APAs scenario of wide-angle radars exploiting the F-35s limited-aspect stealth design. This is just one possible scenario, however. An equally (perhaps more) likely scenario would see the F-35s spread out on a wide front, as is already practised by F-22 pilots. This takes advantage of the superior SA of 5th generation airplanes, and prevents the most likely numerically-inferior force from being outflanked, in this case by the IADS.

So, when the paper I linked to above tried to correct for the bias inherent in APA´s analysis, they came up with a figure of >>43 NM for the detection range of the aforementioned L band against a head-on F-35. This is actually probably fairly reasonable, as even the APA analysis suggests that the F-35 is ´borderline stealthy´ (>-30 dBSM) for the L band in the nose sector.

Even if you take average detection range to be the same as weapons-quality tracking range (as APA does), and allow for a 50% increase in range due to the L band radar being cued by a VHF band radar, you still only get an engagment range of around 65 NM. This would be enough to outrange an F-35 with SDB-II, but it is unlikely to be enough to outrange one with SPEAR 3. As I have mentioned before, I think this difference may be an important factor in the UK´s apparent keeness for SPEAR 3 over SDB-II (Conversely, the USA´s lack of interest in such a weapon may be partially explained by the fact that, unlike the UK, they will have Growlers and F-22s available to help the F-35 in its DEAD mission).

If the tactic mentioned in the National Interest article is negated by the stand-off range of SPEAR 3, therefore, the question comes back to whether the missile´s own sensor is able to detect and engage the F-35. There is a caveat here though: the search radar´s ability to get the missile within range is determined by its accuracy, which as mentioned before, is poor in the case of the VHF band radars. This, combined with the F-35s stealthiness in the X and Ku-bands (those used by the seekers in missiles), makes successfully prosecuting an engagement against an F-35 much more difficult than successfully prosecuting one against against a 4th-gen aircraft, even if both are easily detected by VHF and HF-band radars. Furthermore, it is likely that the the F-35 will be able to jam both X-band and K-band radars (further reducing their range), as well as as the X-band radio link that allows for mid-course updates to be sent from the fire-control radar to the missile.

So, a radar-only successful engagement seems problematic. That leaves us with the possibility, mentioned in the National Interest article, of putting an IR seeker in the missile. I have not looked into this as much, but the fact that, as far as I am aware, no long-range SAM missile either in use or in development has such a seeker suggests to me that this is as at least as problematic as a radar-only successful engagement.

NB// Almost every point I have made is also relevant to APA´s analysis of the A2A capablity of the F-35.

Necessary Evil

Since I seem to have somewhat overstepped the bounds of the discussion, I wonder how many words/references/relevant points I am away from a guest blog – or do you have to have your own blog to have a guest blog on here? If the latter is true then sod it, I only feel like writing this much once every few months, not every few days as TD seems to.

Necessary Evil

To bring it back to ASRAAM, I think a lack of internally-carried SRAAMs will only be a really pressing issue when the enemy has 5th generation fighters which can be directed by low-band ground-based radars to within a fairly short distance of the F-35s without being detected. In most other cases, the F-35s will see the enemy at Meteor-range, not ASRAAM range. Once they have fired their Meteors they can back off and provide targeting functions for 4th generation fighters (with SRAAMS) to engage the enemy.

I think by the time their is a 5th generation threat present (and not just 12, possibly not that stealthy PAF-FAs) in Europe, CUDA will be available, so it will be up to the UK whether it buys some, tries to get ASRAAM qualified for internal carriage, or just perseveres as is.


What needs to be remembered is f35 will not fight in isolation it will be part of the full air battle plan which will have awac, sigint, ew, recon and fighter assets allocated to name a few. The aircraft types, numbers and tactics of how an air war against an IADS is conducted may look different to the past but those assets and functions will still be there.

That’s why the ideas of some independent uk action solely from an aircraft carrier deck is quite idiot, it hasn’t yet nor ever will happen that way.



That’s not how it works. Only the enemy are allowed to use combined arms and supporting units, even if they never use that degree of cooperations.
Our equipment has to operate in isolation all the time, even if we never use it that way, because “what if”


Thinking about it, The ASRAAM is supposed to have lock on after launch (LOAL) to provide an over-the-shoulder capability.
That, to me, suggests that you can throw it out of the bay “blind” if needed, with just the inertial guidance to get it pointed in the right direction.

Necessary Evil

I think the choice of SPEAR 3 suggests that the UK is looking to develop its own, independent (albeit smaller and less comprehensive) DEAD capability. This will largely revolve around the F-35, although I am sure the UK would welcome US assets where they are available. If they are merely looking to operate in conjunction with the US, there is no need to buy a SPEAR 3-like capability, in fact it would be easier to ´slot in´ if our F-35s were armed with the same weapons as those of the US. Different weapons (with different specifications) to me points to our own CONOPS, which I will believe will include independent DEAD operations.

Note that this doesn´t necessarily mean that the UK is planning to fight alone in a future conflict, it merely suggests that they might plan and execute missions on their own as part of a coalition effort.

Necessary Evil

When I said plan I meant at the tactical level.


Spear 3 is the next evolution in increasing the standoff range between aircraft and target.

Between it and paveway IV we will have replaced the capability of a significant number of weapons with just 2 types.

El Sid

@NE The likes of APA are obsessed with LO, when it’s not even the most important thing that the F-35 brings to the party. The real interest is in the avionics, but that’s something that’s not easy to model and is kept rather more hush-hush than what the thing looks like. Your thoughts pay little attention to the difference between detecting something and generating target-quality tracks – and just throwing big warheads on your SAMs comes at the cost of range, expense and/or numbers. And how do those radars perform when faced with EW of all sorts from Growlers and F-35s, when faced with MALD-J/N generating multiple “ghost” aircraft for every actual one? The battlefield is never “clean”.

The USN in particular has been sceptical of the whole stealth thing, which is why they’ve been holding back on buying F-35’s but throwing money at better ARMs, namely the AARGM-ER which doubles the range of HARM. Note the “H” in HARM – the problem with glide bombs is that they’re slow, HARM travels at 4x the speed of a glide weapon which means the IADS has 75% less time to react in.

Necessary Evil

Yes, the avionics are important, but so is the airframe, which is why they didn´t just leave the avionics on the Catbird plane they used to test them.

Actually, I did pay attention to the difference between detection range and weapons quality engagement tracks – I pointed out that APA had elided the two. I did not try to correct this for two reasons – one there aren´t even any provisional figures available for the later, but also because I wanted to show that even the APA´s worst case scenario does not suggest that the F-35-SPEAR 3 combo will be ineffective.

As for the warhead, the scenario in the National Interest article (not written by me) required a 440-pound warhead, which is the same warhead the S-400´s longest range missile carries.

I mentioned offensive ECM as well, but tried to illustrate that the purchase of SPEAR 3 suggests that the UK recognises that US assets will not always be available to provide this.

Finally, AARGM is a good option for the US, but not quite as good for us. First of all, even if you double the range of HARM you still have to get within the maximum range of a S-400, which isn´t such a problem for the US since this range will be reduced by Growler´s jamming the radars, or the radars themselves will already have been destroyed by f-22s. Secondly, the F-35B apparently won´t be able to carry the AARGM internally, leading to the scenario mentioned above. Finally, although one HARM may be more survivable than one SPEAR 3, it is not certain that 2 HARM will be more survivable than 8 SPEAR 2, which are the equivalent loads.