British F-35B to Carry Meteor Missiles from 2024

Meteor to be carried by the F-35 from 2024. Note the clipped tail fins required for internal carriage. Illustration: MBDA

The United Kingdom is preparing its F-35 Lightning II to carry and operate the Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM) as its principal long-range air/air weapon.

The UK MOD awarded today a £41 million contract to the missile developer MBDA for the integration of the missile on the new aircraft. The Meteor will provide the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy with one of the most advanced air/air missile of its class, that can engage with targets moving at very high speed and at a very long range. The Meteor will enter service on Typhoon with the RAF in 2018 and the F-35B from 2024 and will be used on a range of missions including protecting the Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers.

Each F-35B will be able to carry two Meteor missiles and two air/ground weapons in the internal weapons bay for missions requiring stealth capabilities (first day of conflict scenario). In addition, in non-stealth modes, the aircraft will be able to carry two missiles under each of the main underwing hardpoint (the F-35 has four such hardpoints). The RAF F-35Bs will also be able to carry ASRAAM air/air missiles on the outer wing hardpoint.

France has performed the first launch and flight test of the ‘Meteor’ beyond visual range air-to-air missile from a Rafale combat jet. The missile is expected to be fielded in 2018 with the first batch of upgraded Rafale F3-R, which will also be fitted with RBE2 AESA radar and advanced Infrared Search Track system, enabling long-range engagement of hostile targets. Photo: DGA

The Meteor missile does not fit the F-35B internal weapons bay since its tail fins are too large to fit and therefore requires some adjustments. To get the missile inside the weapon bay MBDA plans to equip the Meteor missiles destined for the F-35 with clipped tail fins that will be clipped in height and lengthened, to retain the wing area and thus maintain the weapon’s kinematic performance. The contract awarded today helps de-risk the integration effort and includes the mixture of test assets, engineering and manufacturing preparation work needed to support the missile’s compatibility and use from the F-35. The test assets included in the program the engineering of change kits to be required to prepare the UK’s common Meteor stockpile for both Typhoon and Lightning. It also covers the production of test missiles required for an aircraft integration program.

Today’s contract follows on from the successful firing trials of MBDA’s Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM) from the F-35 earlier this year. ASRAAM is being integrated onto the F-35 as part of the aircraft’s Block 3 System Development and Demonstration program.

The Meteor will be fielded with the F-35 as part of the Block 4 upgrade expected in the 2020s. This block will also fit to operate MBDA’s Selective Precision Effects at Range (SPEAR) precision surface attack missile. SPEAR and Meteor are advanced weapons that complement the ‘5th gen’ F-35, bringing networked capability with stand-off – both weapons are key elements of the UK’s carrier strike capability in the future.

The F-35B launching an ASRAAM missiles from the outboard pylon. ASRAAM, designated AIM-132 will be used by the British Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force. The trials are the first time a British-designed missile has been fired from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and the first time any non-US missile has been fired from the aircraft.