A battle of the bombs is brewing at Farnborough, as two munitions giants go head-to-head for a British defense ministry contract.
Raytheon will use the Farnborough Airshow to launch an audacious attempt to wrest the UK defense ministry’s (MoD) SPEAR 3 (Selected Precision Effects at Range) air-launched missile requirement contract from MBDA. Speaking to ShowNews, Small Diamater Bomb II (SDBII) program staff argued that their system has a compelling financial case, with integration onto F-35B effectively free to Britain and a new translator box lowering the cost to field the weapon on Typhoon.
“The UK is interested in resolving the SPEAR program, and we think that SDBII will compete very well,” says Jeff White, business development head for SDBII at Raytheon. “We believe we have a very low-cost solution compared to other companies. We also believe that we meet most, if not all, of the requirements currently for the SPEAR 3 competition. MBDA is the current incumbent, but what we’re bringing to the table is something that’s in test. We’ll be flying in combat and ready to go in early 2017 on the F-15E, and we’re working on the licensing to have manufacturing done in the United Kingdom on parts of our weapon.”
MBDA has been developing its Spear missile in collaboration with MoD. The weapon is a follow-on capability from the Dual-Mode Seeker Brimstone missiles currently flown by Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 jets, which offer low-collateral moving-target strikes against moving targets. The SPEAR 3 requirement, still largely classified, is known to add a substantial stand-off range to the suite of capabilities Brimstone currently provides.
MBDA was unable to make program staff available for interview as ShowNews went to press. Its Spear missile remains in the design phase and has not yet flown. Models of the weapon in two different launcher configurations appear outside the company’s chalet.
The key difference between the two missiles is that SDBII glides, while Spear is turbine-powered. This should allow the Spear to be released from an aircraft regardless of its position relative to the target, while an aircraft dropping SDBII would have to at least be pointing in the correct direction before release. Raytheon claims an effective range for SDBII of around 45 miles. MBDA has not revealed the range their proposed weapon is expected to achieve.
Raytheon’s pitch to the UK stresses the business case.
“We’ve designed this weapon to be low-cost,” says O’Brien. “The development will be behind us shortly but the procurement is in front of us. Our objective is to make this weapon as capable as possible but as low in cost as possible.”
The SDBII program is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and the weapon is being integrated initially on three platforms: the U.S. Air Force’s F-15E, the U.S. Navy’s F-35C, and the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B. Raytheon officials refer to these as “threshold” platforms.
“If [a future international] customer also flew the same aircraft as the United States, and purchased it in line with US plans to do that, then effectively a lot of the integration comes free,” says John O’Brien, Raytheon’s SDBII program director. “As well as the threshold aircraft, we have objective aircraft. Those are the F-35A, the F-16, F-22, B-52, B-2 and the B-1 for the U.S. Air Force; the F-18E/F Super Hornet for the Navy; and even UAVs such as the MQ-9. There’s a total planned buy of roughly 17,000 weapons for the U.S. domestic procurement.”
The U.S. F-35s will be able to carry up to eight SDBIIs internally, using the new JMM BRU (Joint Miniature Munitions Bomb Rack Unit) currently under development by Raytheon. In a non-stealth configuration using external pylons, a further 16 more can be carried. The F-15E maximum load-out would see it carry up to 28 SDBIIs, with two fuel tanks and air-to-air missiles.
With integration on to F-35B and MQ-9 part of the development program, the main cost to the UK, should it acquire SDBII, would be integration on to Typhoon.
“SDBII is a UAI (Universal Armament Interface)-based weapon, but not all airplanes are UAI-compatible,” says White. “Raytheon is in the process of developing a translator box, called the Interface Bridge. If you put the weapon on an airplane with the Interface Bridge, the weapon now thinks it’s on a UAI airplane and the airplane thinks it has a legacy weapon. All the SDBII information will reside in the box, and the box will translate the information. This would be a low-cost integration tool, which might be beneficial for some customers.”
A Main Gate decision on the UK’s SPEAR 3 requirement is expected next year.

Editor's Note: Spear's power nature has been corrected above.