Selective Precision Effects at Range (SPEAR) Capability 3 is the name given to a Category A project (>£400m) to deliver a weapon;
Clearly, it is designed to work with the UK’s future F-35B fleet for attacks against integrated air defences using its increased stand-off distance to enhance the launch aircraft survivability. In other air interdiction missions against lesser capability air defences, it will be used to destroy the full gamut of likely targets on the ground and with some secondary capability against smaller targets at sea or in the littoral.
SPEAR Capability 3 History
There has been a number of ‘feed in’ research programmes including the Sensor to Effect Phase 2 and Time Sensitive Target Test Bed that have developed the control and communication systems between the weapon and other platforms but the requirement emerged towards the end of 2009, although initial work had been completed at the turn of the century.
Increasing capabilities and proliferation of capable air-defence systems and ever more complex rules of engagement environments combined to produce to key drivers; the ability to be retargeted in flight and have the ability to stand off at a sufficient distance to enable integrated air defence systems to be attacked.
Later, this evolved to also include a specific launch platform, the F-35 Lightning II, 4 per bay.
MBDA launched their concept for SPEAR Capability 3, called SPEAR, at Farnborough in 2012, describing it as both a step change and a mini cruise missile. This initial concept has since evolved, the location of control surfaces and body shape for example.
The SPEAR Capability 3 Assessment Phase also included Capability 2 block 2 and Sea Ceptor so when the National Audit Office report, the individual component costs are not clear.
The real issue with SPEAR Capability 3 at the time was that the MBDA version was not the only game in town. Raytheon has their Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) Increment II or GBU-53. There is no doubt SDB-II has less capability, it is a glide only weapon and thus has a lower time to target (which enables the launch aircraft to ‘get the f**k out of dodge’ sooner) and longer range (greater stand-off distance).
The SDB-II has a tri-mode seeker (SAL, IR and MMW) and a larger warhead than SPEAR Cap 3.
This was the dilemma for the MoD, buy off the shelf or develop the MBDA system.
Raytheon went on the public relations offensive and hinted that a UK SDB-II could be made at their UK manufacturing facility.
The F-35B is not scheduled to carry the SDB-II until 2022 as part of Block 4a software and recent news indicates some minor modifications (hydraulic line and bracket) to the bomb way will be required in order to allow the carriage of 4 per bay, these are planned to be incorporated into the production aircraft from 2019 onwards. Whether these plans come to fruition within the proposed timescale is open for discussion.
SPEAR Capability 3 has been reportedly proposed for Block 4 software on the F-35 programme.
Initial flight development work was carried out on the Typhoon.
In March 2016, it was reported that the MoD were going to extend the MBDA Assessment Phase work, thus effectively making its choice.
Main Gate decision on Demonstration and Manufacture phase was not planned until 2018 but several media outlets had reported in early May that MBDA were about to be awarded a £411 Million contract to develop SPEAR Cap 3.
On the 18th of May 2016, the MoD announced the next stage of development for SPEAR Capability 3
It was later announced that the first test firing had taken place in March 2016;
Paul Wester, SPEAR Programme Director, explained the significance of the test firings;
No news on Typhoon integration but several outlets have reported it is an aspiration and will hopefully use the new three round common launcher for a total of twelve carried munitions.
So although SPEAR Cap 3 has been test fired from Typhoon, integration would require more detailed and demanding activity.
Spear Capability 3 Capabilities
Perhaps the best way to describe SPEAR Cap 3 is either a longer range Brimstone or jet powered SDB-II.
The conceptual requirement emerged some time ago but was been given particular impetus by the proliferation of advanced Russian and Chinese air defence systems, especially the SA-21 and related systems.
Its key features include;
- Internal turbojet with flush intakes and folding wings
- F-35B internal or external carriage with 4 per bay when carried internally
- External carriage on the Typhoon (although this does not seem to be in the current plan)
- 140km plus range
- Two-way datalink for re-tasking during flight
- GPS/INS, Millimetric Radar and Semi-Active Laser (SAL) terminal guidance (final options to be confirmed)
- Multi fuzing and tuneable warhead
- MIL-STD 1760 and UAI interface compliance for F-35 and Typhoon integration
The turbojet propulsion is used to provide extended range, headwind resistance, survivability against air defence weapons and additional flexibility. It also provides a much shorter time to target than a glide weapon which improves survivability of the aircraft. With GPS and multi-mode guidance, together with the two data link, MBDA is going for absolutely maximum flexibility.
The turbojet used in the designs so far has been a version of the Whitney AeroPower (Hamilton Sundstrand) TJ-150 turbojet that is also used on the MALD and MALD-J systems.
MBDA have used parts of the ASRAAM airframe as a basis for SPEAR which has some echoes of the BAE Typhoon missile (not aircraft) proposed for the requirement what would eventually be fulfilled by Brimstone!
The modular approach taken by Brimstone 2 and ASRAAM will be used on SPEAR, MBDA has claimed this would allow SPEAR to be modified to include a booster motor that would allow it to be used in the land attack and counter Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FIAC) role. MBDA released a graphic a few years showing a concept for a Common Anti-Surface Modular Missile (CAsMM) that used the same launch cell as the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM)
The vertical launch SPEAR CAP 3 remains an interesting option for land attack from RN vessels equipped with Sea Ceptor or Mk41 VLS.