Long shrouded in official secrecy, the MBDA Meteor is now here. Development testing is complete, and customers are getting ready to take delivery of this game-changing missile.

For Europe’s fighters it promises a capability without peer in air-to-air combat. MBDA’s Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) could become the discriminator in 21st-century air warfare, with the world divided between those who have it and those who do not.

The ramjet-powered Meteor delivers a combination of speed, range and lethality that is unmatched by any other fighter weapon in service – or in development. By the end of this year MBDA will be delivering the first real weapons that will go on to be carried by the Saab Gripen, Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale. Everyone else is playing catch-up.

It is a little over six years since MBDA fired the first Meteor. Since then MBDA has undertaken 21 test firings to complete the development program, and now the European firm is building the first production missiles. In the coming weeks MBDA will deliver the Meteor final performance statement to the international program office that will show that the missile is “fully compliant from a lethality and kinematic point of view,” says Meteor chief engineer and project head Andy Bradford. “A very, very positive performance statement will be going to the partner nations.”

“To support a particular customer milestone toward the end of this year we’ve already delivered ground handling training missiles which are required by the various authorities to practice with before they handle live ordnance,” says Bradford. “The initial production of Meteor forebodies has started in Lostock [UK]. They then go through a build process that takes them to a short missile level with all their electronic and sensor subsystems, but no warhead or propulsion system. We test that, put it through a very stringent environmental screening process and then deliver to Henlow [UK], where eventually the warhead and engine are integrated.”

“We are on schedule for deliveries to the UK toward the end of this year, and we have five of the partner nations on contract, so we have a significant production run ahead of us – and I think there is some real export interest starting to brew.”

Germany is the last of the partner nations still to sign a Meteor production contract but, says Bradford, “the German discussions are very well advanced and we expect Germany to be on contract with us before the end of this year.”

One contractual item still to be resolved is a full integration plan for the Eurofighter Typhoon. The UK is the Meteor program lead and the Typhoon was supposed to be the first aircraft equipped with the new missile. The UK has an ambition to be operational with Meteor in 2015, but that requires a level of integration work that is not yet under way.

Says Bradford, “At the moment, we have an enabling contract, in advance of the main integration program, which is de-risking that program.” If that main contract is signed, then the Typhoon will gain Meteor capability around 2015-16, says MBDA.

The first operational Meteor air force will be Sweden. “We will deliver missiles to Saab this summer, which will be used for Gripen firings in the first half of next year for their own integration program,” Bradford says. “We have a production schedule agreed with Sweden, and that integration program through FMV and Saab backs into the Swedish timeframe, which is about 2014.” In fact, FMV has talked about having Meteor operational on the Gripen by 2013.

France is working to a longer-term requirement than the other European nations, with an in-service date for Dassault’s Rafale expected around 2018.

“On Rafale we have a requirement for when French production deliveries will start,” says Bradford. “We are just completing the first phase of Rafale integration and the next phase will follow next year. That continues for two or three years with a number of firings from Rafale, and we will finish well in advance of the required French delivery program.”