Choose Your Weapon
A version of this article appears in the July 7 edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology.
The crown jewel of Europe’s fighter weapon industry—and the only new weapon currently undergoing integration of all three European fighters—is MBDA’s Meteor ramjet-powered air-to-air missile. It is the world’s first air-breathing AAM and, Aviation Week understands from industry sources, has already reached the stage of a contingency operational capability with Sweden’s JAS 39C/D , which is due to be fully operational with Meteor next year. “We have no further work to do on Gripen integration,” an MBDA executive says.
Meteor has had a long development process and has been criticized for its high cost, but the fournations—Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K.—along with France and Sweden) have now ordered the missile and MBDA has an order backlog in four digits.
On the Typhoon, the goal is to have Meteor ready for service in 2017. Software to permit an initial integration will form part of the P2E (Phase 2 Enhancements) package, with full integration achieved in the follow-up software program, P3E, which is being developed at’ Warton plant. The P2 and P3 enhancements will permit full integration of Meteor with both the future active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and the current mechanically scanned Captor. Meteor will therefore be available to both Tranche 2 and Tranche 3 , even though only the latter will be able to field AESA.
’s F3-R standard, under contract since January and due for service entry in 2018, provides for two Meteors on the aft body weapon stations. Technically the aircraft could carry more than that, says, but so far that is all the French customer has requested.
The Meteor development program is through, with MBDA continuing to support Rafale and Typhoon integration. “Pilots are saying that when we take it into service, we’ll have to redo all our fighter tactics,” the MBDA executive says. The company continues to say that against an agile, evading target, Meteor’s no-escape zone—the area within which, if a missile is launched, the target cannot kinematically avoid being hit—is three times larger than that of a conventional single-pulse rocket weapon in a head-on engagement, and five times larger in a tail-chase.
The key is the ramjet engine, which is not only more efficient than a rocket but can also be throttled: the burn rate of the boron-based sustainer propellant is determined by pressure, so can be controlled by a valve between the propellant container and the ramjet duct. This process is controlled by Meteor’s guidance system: After the boost phase, the missile reaches a set cruise speed, but then accelerates as the target gets closer. “The goal is to convert all the fuel into speed at target impact, but not before,” Aviation Week is told.
Typhoon and Gripen are both to be fitted with precision cruise missiles. In the latter case, Sweden’s expanded defense budget—a response to Russia’s activities in Ukraine—includes the purchase and operational integration of the Swedish-German Taurus KEPD 350, while the U.K. is now moving forward with Storm Shadow integration as the retirement of Tornado moves closer.
Storm Shadow integration work is progressing in flight tests in Germany and Italy. Flight testing takes into account that Germany operates a similar, but not identical, Taurus missile. Integration is part of P2E and an in-service date in the 2015-16 range is anticipated.
“Those trials have gone really, really well,” says Andy Lumb, BAE’s head of Typhoon weapons systems architecture. “We have taken some of the worry away from aerodynamics now and refocused into the avionics integration, to make sure we can get the mission-planning integration into the weapon and the aircraft, and get ready for the weapon-release side of it.”
Another new weapon proposed for Typhoon is the low-collateral-damage, moving-target MBDA Brimstone 2, the follow-on to the Dual-Mode Brimstone missile, which was procured from MBDA under an urgent operational requirement and arms(RAF) Tornados. Official confirmation of a study program was not made until June 19, although a contract was agreed to early this year and BAE began work in February. Part of the funding is coming from the U.K. defense ministry, with the rest provided internally by BAE, which sees Brimstone 2 integration as a help to future export sales.
During a visit to Warton, Aviation Week was shown a photograph of a 1/12-scale wind-tunnel model of a Typhoon carrying four Brimstone launchers; each launcher is equipped with three missiles. In art released with the official announcement last month, the aircraft is shown with two launchers. The company’s position is that it intends to provide a capability for Typhoon to carry a minimum of six Brimstones.
“We’re looking at the aerodynamics of putting it onto the jet, and [assessing] the impacts on the flight-control system and the armament control,” Lumb says. “The launcher conforms to a standard interface, so there are no worries in terms of interface standard. For Typhoon, because it is highly agile, we just have to worry about having, effectively, two big crates on the outboard wings, in terms of what that does to the aerodynamic performance.”
The assessment phase is expected to run until late this year. Lumb estimates that an integration program would be completed before Tornado is retired from the RAF in 2019.
Integration of the follow-on capability to Brimstone, a requirement the British defense ministry calls Spear 3, which is expected to be met by a new MBDA-developed missile, is also a possibility. “Spear 3 is still in its design phase, so we’re still waiting for lines and commitments from MBDA in terms of what the weapon looks like overall,” says Lumb. “Brimstone’s a short-range, close-air-support type of weapon, whereas Spear is aimed at a far longer-range capability; Brimstone is rail-launched while Spear is eject-launched. But both Brimstone and Spear have a route to integration on Typhoon, and we would like to realize either of those weapons onto the aircraft: It is just that the RAF’s primary platform for Spear 3 currently is.”
Rafale already carries a wider range of weapons than its European rivals. The F3-R program brings on thePDL-NG next-generation laser-designation pod, replacing the current Damocles. With high-definition sensors and better display formats, including a picture-in-picture mode, and in conjunction with new software, the PDL-NG is intended to exploit the full envelope of the laser-guided version of the Sagem Hammer bomb family. PDL-NG also will be able to lase the target automatically when necessary, even after the bomb’s long flight time. The pilot’s ability to select different trajectories (such as vertical impacts) and fuze modes will be improved as well.