The Meteor long-range air-to-air missile, which is under development by a six-nation consortium with MBDA (Chalet 173) as industry lead, is on course to enter service next year with the Swedish air force’s Saab Gripen fighters–although Rafale and Typhoon pilots will have to wait until 2018 before they get their hands on the weapon. It will bring what MBDA describes as a “step change” to air combat.
MBDA and its partners Saab and Inmize have completed developmental firings, accomplishing more than 20. Now the weapon is in production, further tests are in the hands of the customers and airframers, who are conducting the integration with the Gripen, Rafale and Typhoon. Saab is adding the Meteor to the JAS 39C/D through the MS20 upgrade.
Meteor is also slated for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and is a candidate for integration during the Block 4 capability upgrade cycle. MBDA expects to hear whether it will be included in Block 4 around the end of the year.
As far as partner nation requirements go, Italy and the UK are buying the F-35B, but MBDA also wants to get the missile into the F-35A version that will generate the most sales. To fit the F-35’s internal weapons bay, the Meteor will have to be modified with cropped fins, although this is expected to provide some drag-reduction benefits.
MBDA’s UK air adviser Russ Martin foresees a healthy export market for the Meteor, especially as sales grow for the fighter platforms to which it is currently matched. “It’s a perfect storm. There is a clear need to replace missiles such as the AMRAAM and ‘Adder’ [Vympel R-77], and there’s a range of new platforms being developed.”
Although there are some parts covered by U.S. ITAR controls, export restrictions are unlikely to be a problem, Martin explained. “If the platform is cleared for export, then it is more than likely that the Meteor will be cleared as well,” he said.
Meteor’s advanced “throttleable” ramjet motor bestows very long range on the missile. Not only does this greatly increase the chance of firing first against the enemy, it also decreases the likelihood that the engagement will end up at closer ranges, where the outcome is less predictable. “You need to make that first shot count when the air picture is stable,” added Martin.
For shorter-range engagements the missile converts range performance into greater speed to increase kill probability to the maximum possible. The weapon has a management system that calculates the distance to target and the amount of fuel it can burn to achieve the intercept, with the aim being to have converted all the fuel to either range or speed by the time it hits the target.