Advanced Short Range Air to Air Missile (ASRAAM)
The AIM-132 ASRAAM is a high speed, highly manoeuvrable, heat-seeking, air-to-air missile.
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-boresight launch.
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.
SRAAM Image 1
SRAAM Image 2
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 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, the 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 is that it enabled the fitting of ASRAAM to multiple aircraft types with minimal modifications.
After years of 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.
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.
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).
The 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 a 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-around 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 was 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 contracts 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 entered 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.
A Parliamentary Answer confirmed the cost of ASRAAM F-35B integration
The estimated costs of integrating ASRAAM, Paveway IV and SPEAR Cap 3 weapons onto the F-35 Lightning are as follows: ASRAAM: £47 million, Paveway IV: £103 million, SPEAR Cap 3: £170 million.
In 2021, the MoD confirmed carriage and firing from HMS Queen Elizabeth
Another first!— HMS Queen Elizabeth 🇬🇧 (@HMSQNLZ) May 10, 2021
🇬🇧 Advanced Short Range Air to Air Missiles (ASRAAM)
Fired by 🇬🇧⚡ jets
Launched from a 🇬🇧 carrier
British 5th generation fighters operating from the sea 🌊#carrierstrike#strikewarrior pic.twitter.com/c9nMZOwuTE
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.
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.
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 are all planned to be internally carried.
Not 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 has 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.
ASRAAM Block 6 is also ITAR free, enabling export without US approval. As part of a wider technology refresh, it incorporates a number of new components and systems including the seeker and a built-in cryogenic cooling system.
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