The United Kingdom (UK) has signed a $750-million contract with European arms manufacturer MBDA to equip its F-35 stealth fighter jets with Spear 3 cruise missiles.
The UK Ministry of Defence announced the deal on January 6. The new mini-cruise missile will achieve initial operational capability on the advanced F-35 fighters by 2025.
The deal will enable the Spear 3 missiles the primary air-to-ground weapon for the American-made fighters currently in service with the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy.
UK Defence Minister Jeremy Quin said, “The development of this next-generation missile will allow us to protect our personnel and assets on the ground, from thousands of meters in the sky above.”
“Our commitment to this system will secure hundreds of highly skilled jobs across the UK and showcase British technology and weapon expertise on the world stage,” he added.
The Spear 3 is a next-generation missile that can travel long distances at high-subsonic speed. It is set to become the F-35 fighter’s primary air-to-ground weapon over the course of the next decade.
Powered by a turbojet engine, the missile can operate across land and sea, day or night, to overpower enemy air defense systems, enabling the pilot and aircraft to remain safe at a distance.
The 1.8 meter-long missile system has a range of over 140 kilometers and its ability to attack moving targets will enhance the UK’s future air combat capability and as well as turn the Queen Elizabeth-class carrier strike group more lethal.
According to reports, Britain currently possesses around 21 fifth-generation F-35Bs, having received three new jets on 30 November last year.
The Initial Operating Capability (Maritime) of the F-35 fighters was declared recently, and later this year, the fighters will sail with HMS Queen Elizabeth on her maiden Global Carrier Strike Group’s ‘21 deployment’.
Armed with the Spear 3 missiles, the F-35 fighter’s unique combination of stealth, cutting-edge radar and sensor technology will help in protecting the aircraft carriers from enemy ships, submarines, aircraft, and missiles.
Colonel Martin French, Defence Equipment & Support’s (DE&S) Lightweight, and Medium Attack Systems (LMAS) team leader, said. “Building on the successes and technology achievements of the previous four years’ work with MBDA, we now enter the exciting and challenging demonstration phase where we start to prove the system against the UK’s requirements and ramp-up activities to integrate this highly-capable weapon system onto the F-35B aircraft.”
As things stand, the missile is destined to be fitted only on the F-35B models. However, that could change due to the British Defence Ministry’s admission that the missiles could eventually be installed on the Eurofighter Typhoon as well.
“There is growing recognition around the benefits of widening platform access and developing a range of Spear variants in order to maximize commonality within Spear, for both additional military capability and to meet potential demand from export customers,” said an official of the defense ministry.
“There is an aspirational requirement to integrate Spear 3 operational capability onto Eurofighter Typhoon, and both Italy and Germany (partners with Britain on the Typhoon program) are showing interest.”
The Eurofighter Typhoon is a twin-engine, canard delta wing, multirole fighter jet falling under the 4++ generation bracket. The fighters, which are manufactured by a consortium of Airbus, BAE Systems, and Leonardo, were originally designed as air superiority fighters.