MBDA describe the Meteor BVRAAM missile as;
It will enter service on Typhoon first and in due course, the F-35.
Meteor BVRAAM History
The History of the Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air to Air Missile (BVRAAM) goes back to the early nineties with the requirement to replace the Skyflash AAM on the Eurofighter 2000, it was intended to be in service by 2000. Staff Requirement (Air) 1239 was also caught up in the industrial politics at the time, like ASRAAM. And so, the RAF’s Future Medium Range Air to Air Missile (FMRAAM) would be put to competition.
Initially, there were two contenders; Hughes with an improved AIM-120 AMRAAM and a BAE-led consortium, called S225X, comprising Saab, GEC Marconi Dynamics and Alenia. Whilst the requirement was still being firmed up the main issue of uncertainty was range, although identification issues of concern, BAE did state that it was considering a boost-coast-boost system to increase energy in the ‘end game’
Daimler-Benz Aerospace (DASA) emerged as another contender in 1994 with a rocket/ramjet missile called the A3M. BAE also proposed a two concept approach, the S225X with a dual pulse rocket motor and the longer range S225XR that had made use of a rocket/ramjet. The BAE offering also provided for a two-tier approach, an active radar seeker first in 2003 and then a dual mode radar/IR seeker in 2010.
As the requirement changed to reflect a greater understanding of emerging threats, the requirement changed. Russian aircraft with IRST and extreme agility could not only see weapon launches at long range but they could also defeat them either with ECM or simple physics. The ramjet-powered R-77 also complicated matters enormously.
This meant longer range, ECM resistance and extreme agility at range became the defining requirements for SR (A) 1239 and FVRAAM.
By 1995 the competition had been formalised and the field widened, Matra weighing in with a Mica variant and Hughes were proposing a ramjet variant of AMRAAM. Kentron from South Africa were also at the time considering entering the competition. Several variations on passive radar, active radar (J and K band) and passive infra-red seekers were also being variously proposed by the emerging competitors. Hughes also proposed a Variable Flow Ducted Rocket version of their AMRAAM design. BAE received interest from Volvo and Bayern-Chemie for the ramjet that would power the S225XR. Bayern-Chemie was also involved with the DASA A3M.
The Hughes consortium included Shorts, Matra Thomson Thorn, Aerospatiale, and Fokker, cheekily, they called their missile the FVRAAM. This mean the RAF had to rename the requirement from FVRAAM to BVRAAM!
The European entries remained fragmented until BAE went through a round of intense negotiation and deal making, something for which they get little credit. If there was a credible European alternative to the Hughes bid (which also contained a great deal of European content) it was because of BAE.
By 1996, it was more or less a simple choice between Hughes (with a load of European companies) and BAE (with a load of other European companies). It is also interesting to speculate on reasons why the USAF remained largely out of defining a long range requirement, many at the time put the reluctance down to protecting the F-22 from an F-15/BVRAAM competitor. There was also a strong desire in European industry for a European solution. The ongoing saga of ASRAAM and the reluctance of US to allow AIM120 integration with Gripen was seen as a clear indicator of protectionism.
The BAE offering, now including Matra, Daimler-Benz LFK, Saab, Alenia and GEC Marconi, became Meteor in 1996.
After a number of bid clarification sessions, the MoD concluded that there was too much uncertainty in both submissions and rather than make a decision on full-scale development, awarded two £5m risk reduction studies to both Hughes and BAE in 1997. A second ITT was issued the same year. More delays followed as a result of pre-election ‘purdah’ and the post-election 1998 SDR. Other European nations were also showing some interest in obtaining the data from the risk reduction studies and formulating similar requirements, especially Gripen and Eurofighter nations.
To assuage fears about US political interference with arming Eurofighter the US Secretary of Defense wrote to the UK with assurances about export issues. There is no doubt that the New Labour government preferred a European solution and in July 1998, a statement of intent was signed by the UK, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Spain that agreed such the UK select Meteor, the others would procure the same missile.
By then, it was clear there would be a looming gap between the Eurofighter Typhoon coming into service and Meteor being ready for deployment. This allowed Raytheon to offer a graduated approach with AMRAAM with various proposals that took the AMRAAM design with improvements towards the full SR(A) 1239 requirement.
In 1999, France also expressed an interest in the Meteor project with offers of 20% funding, but only if the UK selected it. France joined the programme at the end of the year.
The UK was for all intents and purposes, caught in a US/Europe industrial power struggle, lobbying from various heads of state and continued through the late nineties adding yet more delays. Offers and counter offers continued to be made and the fading shine of the Russian missile industry continued to play into the hands of those suggesting a lower specification would be sufficient.
After pulling out in 1998, Sweden re-joined in 1999.
Meteor was increasingly a political decision and 2008 in service date were looking fanciful. In the meantime, the consolidation of European defence manufacturers had continued apace; Matra, BAE Dynamics, Alenia and GEC Marconi were by now, MBD.
In May 2000, the MoD announced the UK had selected Meteor.
The CEO of MBD said;
In 2001, Aerospatiale joined MBD and MBDA was formed.
Following the decision, a round of negotiation and yet more industrial trade-offs commenced. Germany was particularly difficult, delaying funding for two years and causing MBDA to commit its own funds for the German motor provided by Bayern-Chemie, an irony not lost on an increasingly exasperated industry. Germany eventually approved funding and promptly cut its requirement by more than 50%.
In 2002, the £1.2 Billion £1.2 Billion for the demonstration and manufacture phases was awarded.
Geoff Hoon, SoS Defence said;
The Defence Select Committee concluded;
The contract also only covered manufacturing for the RAF, neither did it address the Meteor and Typhoon ISD gap and so a £200m contract was awarded to Raytheon for the AIM-120 missile as an interim.
The first flight of Meteor was in 2005, from a French Navy Rafale F2. Gripen and Typhoon firings have also been completed as part of the extended development programme.
Since then, development has continued and production orders from the partner nations and Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt also, production commenced in 2012.
Meteor is scheduled to enter service with the RAF on Typhoon in 2017, 17 years after selection and approximately 25 years since the requirement was first mooted.
Meteor BVRAAM Capabilities
Obviously, actual capabilities are known only to that should know, and possibly Chinese hackers!
But what seems equally obvious is, what information is open source could easily lead to an assumption that the often overused words, ‘game changing’, are entirely appropriate.
Meteor is 3.65m long and weighs 185kg. maximum speed is reportedly Mach 4 and operational range, according to Mr Wikipedia, is 300 plus km. We don’t know the maximum range for very good reasons, whatever Wikipedia may say, but, it is widely believed to be very long range and significantly longer ranged than comparable missiles currently in service, which is kind of the point.
Meteor is truly a European missile, not only is it the missile that drove the industry consolidation in the late nineties that created MBDA where Storm Shadow and ASRAAM failed (Taurus KEPD and IRIS) it is manufactured in many European countries.
- Fin Actuation Sub-System (FAS) from Sener in Spain and MBDA at Stevenage
- Cobham in Dorset makes the Multi-Mission Launcher rail
- Ramjet system from Bayern-Chemie in Germany
- The seeker uses technology from ASTER and MICA, made by Thales and MBDA
- Inertial measurement system (IMS) is made by Litef in German
- Thermal batteries and power systems, ASB in Scotland
- Saab Bofors Dynamics produce the radar proximity fuze
- Parts of the missile body, Indra Sistemas
- Warhead from TDW in Germany, now part of MBDA
And these are just a few examples of the Meteor enterprise.
Meteor operates in three phases; first, it accelerates to cruising speed and altitude, then in its mid-course phase, the missile optimises its speed and direction in readiness for the final intercept phase. In the intercept phase, by virtue of its propulsion system, Meteor can accelerate to minimise the chances of the target escaping. It is this ability to retain energy and accelerate in the ‘end game’ that gives Meteor its unique advantage.
In each phase, the secure data link allows the missile and launch aircraft, or indeed, other aircraft, to control the approach and terminal guidance for maximum effectiveness. Although it can be a fire and forget missile, Meteor can also be as the sales blurb goes, ‘fire and think’
Another key element of Meteor is that the software can be upgraded without requiring major re-certification work.
The immediate future for the UK is getting Meteor into service on Typhoon as part of Project CENTURION, exploring and developing new tactics to exploit its capabilities and building up sufficient stocks and support arrangements.
Meteor is a new concept, not just a new missile, the two data link and CAPTOR-E integration open all manner of possibilities.
In the medium term, the development path includes F-35 integration, and again, exploiting the opportunities offered by the aircraft’s unique qualities.
The world does not stand still, though, Russian K-37M long-range missile first flew in 2012 and China is also developing the PL-15.
Longer term, the seeker may benefit from Japanese technology they have incorporated on the AAM-4B, specifically, the active electronically scanned array (AESA) system. The UK and Japan announced in 2014 their intent to collaborate on the Joint New Air-to-Air Missile (JNAAM) by;
An AESA seeker would allow the missile to go active sooner in its engagement allowing the launch aircraft to stop transmitting. It is also reportedly extremely capable against crossing targets. The Japanese Defense Ministry’s Technical Research and Development Institute are reportedly working on AESA radar systems that use gallium nitride that is able to generate greater power than the gallium arsenide. The fact that Meteor fits inside an F-35 bay and the AAM-4B does not may also have a bearing on the Japanese enthusiasm for Meteor.
Who knows, maybe the US will buy it, perhaps instead of Next Generation Missile, don’t hold your breath, though.
Does it fit in the F35B Internal Bomb Bay?
This has been a subject of much speculation since the reverse B to C to B switch but recent information seems to suggest it will, with some changes to both aircraft and missile.
The real market for MBDA Meteor on the F-35 is not the B variant, the USMC seem unlikely to purchase Meteor and the other current and potential B operators will only be a relatively small addressable market. The A model, now that is different, much larger market potential. This puts the UK’s requirement for F-35B internal carriage in the ‘if you want it you pay for it’ category.
The latest information is that the UK is planning to integrate the Meteor BVRAAM with the F-35B for internal carriage as part of the Block IV software release. Block IV has yet to finalised and paid for.
A cropped fin concept has been developed by MBDA and a feasibility has concluded there are no significant issues to overcome for F-35B internal carriage, accepting that some minor modifications to the bay will be required.
At a Royal Aeronautical Society’s (RAeS’s) conference in November 2015 called ‘Delivering Capability: A Balance Between Weapon and Platform’, Iain Barker, part of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s (DSTL’s) weapons integration team was reported to have said;
It has been reported that the fin change and software modification could be carried out in ‘the field’ with the same basic missile common, for example, to the Typhoon and F-35. Whatever the final outcome, this does not seem to be a significant issue.
The UK’s F-35B is planned to achieve IOC in 2018, Block IV has yet to be contracted but the current consensus is that it will be ready in the mid-2020’s. After the F-35 programme concludes its initial development, the UK’s status as a Tier 1 partner means nothing, it will have to compete with everyone else for inclusion in Block IV. Block IV is also intended to include SPEAR Capability 3.