The UK Ministry of Defense has confirmed that its fleet of F-35B stealth fighters will be equipped with cutting-edge Meteor air-to-air missiles and SPEAR 3 precision-guided standoff munitions by “the end of the decade.”
This disclosure came in response to a Parliamentary Written question posed by John Healey MP, the Labour Defence Spokesman.
Healey sought information on the progress of integrating UK weaponry onto the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, directing his inquiry to the Secretary of State for Defence.
In response, James Cartlidge MP, Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence, outlined that the UK Lightning Force currently deploys the Advanced Medium Range Air-To-Air Missile (AMRAAM), the Advanced Short Range Air to Air Missile (ASRAAM), and the Paveway 4 precision-guided bomb.
Cartlidge also assured that both Meteor and SPEAR 3 would be integrated into the UK’s F-35 fleet by the end of the decade.
This latest confirmation slightly adjusts the timeline previously provided by the government, which had initially stated that the UK F-35B would be armed with Meteor by the “middle of this decade.”
A governmental document released in February 2022 indicated that the earliest possible timeframe mentioned was 2027.
Efforts to introduce these advanced missiles have been underway for several years. In 2019, Lockheed Martin received initial funding to kickstart the integration process, with preliminary work already in progress at that time.
Building on this foundation, European missile experts MBDA and BAE Systems announced in 2021 that they had secured additional funding, estimated at around $400 million, from the British and Italian governments to expedite the integration process, as earlier reported by EurAsian Times.
This funding covers both the short takeoff and vertical landing F-35B, operated by the UK and Italy, and the conventional takeoff and landing F-35A, acquired by Italy and several other nations, excluding the UK.
The Meteor missile has already been integrated into service on British Eurofighter Typhoons. Furthermore, it underwent comprehensive operational testing and evaluation (OT&E) on Italian Eurofighters, with the successful completion of these assessments taking place late last year.
Nonetheless, the integration of Meteor air-to-air missiles and SPEAR 3 precision-guided standoff munitions will mark a significant enhancement to the capabilities of the UK F-35 fleet.
What Makes The Meteor Missile A Deadly Weapon?
The Meteor, an advanced ‘Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile’ system crafted by MBDA, is the result of collaborative efforts among the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Sweden.
Together, these nations pool resources, technology, and expertise through the Meteor program. The missile utilizes a cutting-edge active radar seeker and incorporates a two-way data link communication system, enabling launch aircraft to provide mid-course target updates or retargeting, including information from third parties.
Saab highlights the missile’s active radar target seeker and jamming-resistant RF proximity fuze, ensuring reliable detection, tracking, and discrimination of targets.
MBDA asserts that the Meteor offers a multi-shot capability against various targets, such as long-range maneuvering targets, jets, UAVs, and cruise missiles, even in environments with heavy electronic countermeasures.
The company also highlights the no-escape zone of over 60 km as the largest among air-to-air missiles. Furthermore, the two-way data link and active radar target seeker guarantee Meteor’s effectiveness at very long ranges.
Additionally, the pilot launching the Meteor receives crucial information about the missile’s fuel, energy, and tracking state through the datalink, aiding in decisions to fire another, disengage, or assign a different target.
The missile’s jamming-resistant proximity fuze and a potent high-explosive blast-fragmentation warhead contribute to its high kill probability.
Equipped with an unmatched sensor suite, the F-35 is deemed effective, if not superior, to other fighters in providing targeting data to the Meteor.
The missile’s capability to receive mid-course updates from alternative sources means the launch aircraft may not need to use its radar. It is particularly advantageous for stealth aircraft like the F-35, enabling entirely passive engagements that maximize stealth attributes.
Meteor earns acclaim for its exceptional kinematic performance, achieved through its distinctive ramjet propulsion system—solid fuel, variable flow, ducted rocket.
MBDA emphasizes that this ‘ramjet’ motor provides continuous thrust up to the target intercept, resulting in the largest No-Escape Zone among air-to-air missiles.
To ensure complete target destruction, the missile is equipped with impact and proximity fuses, along with a fragmentation warhead that detonates on impact or at the optimum intercept point, maximizing lethality. Meteor boasts three to six times the kinetic performance of current air-to-air missiles of its type.