SPEAR 3 missile and its carriers - Typhoon and F-35B
Since the beginning of the last decade, the British branch of the European company MBDA has been developing a promising air-launched cruise missile SPEAR 3. By now, this project has entered one of the final stages, and its real results are expected in the very near future. In accordance with previously defined plans, next year the serial missiles of a new type should enter service with the Royal Air Force and the British Navy. However, the project may have run into difficulties and there is a risk of some kind of delay.
Back in 2010, the KVVS and the marine aviation The UK Navy released the performance requirements for the advanced air-to-surface missile Selected Precision Effects At Range Capability 3 (SPEAR 3). Soon there was a contract for the development of such weapons. The executor of the work was MBDA UK, the British branch of a European international organization.
According to the original plans, by 2014 the SPEAR 3 project was supposed to enter the stage of flight tests of mock-ups. Then the start of full-fledged development was expected, which took several more years. In the absence of difficulties, the finished missile could go into production and enter service in 2018. As is now known, these plans could not be fulfilled.
MBDA UK managed the first stage of development in a few years and began preparations for testing. To do this, in June 2014, she received an additional contract for the integration of a new missile into the weapons system of the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter. This work did not take long, and in the same year, the Typhoon became the carrier of demonstrator rockets and ensured the first tests.
As a result of these events, in May 2016, MBDA UK received a contract for the full development of a new rocket. These works were estimated at 411 million pounds. In 2019, an additional contract appeared, according to which the contractor must integrate the new missile into the weapons system of the F-35B fighter.
In general, the SPEAR 3 project was moving forward successfully, although the actual pace of work differed significantly from early plans and forecasts. So, it was not possible to complete the development and establish a series before 2018, and the terms for adoption into service gradually shifted to the beginning of the twenties.
The final stage
In January 2021, the UK Ministry of Defense issued another contract to MBDA UK. For 550 million pounds, the contractor must complete the development of a promising missile and establish its mass production. Within 18 months after the signing of the contract (until July 2022 inclusive), full-scale flight tests were required to begin.
MBDA UK has not yet announced the start of flight tests. Apparently, the company failed to meet the deadlines, and preparations for the launch of full-fledged experimental products are still ongoing. How soon such tests will begin and how long it will take is unknown.
The current difficulties may lead to a new shift in the timing. The fact is that already in 2023, the British KVVS and KVMF were going to take the new SPEAR 3 missile into service and include it in the ammunition load of the Typhoon and F-35B fighters. It is likely that these plans will not be fulfilled, and the operation of missiles will begin only in 2024-25.
From a technical point of view, the promising air-to-surface missile SPEAR 3 is a deep modernization of the existing Brimstone product. Due to certain improvements in the original design and the use of new components, it was planned to improve all the main characteristics and get new features and modes of operation.
F-35B aircraft with SPEAR 3 and Meteor missiles on internal sling
The new rocket is made in a cylindrical body with a length of 1,8 m and a diameter of 180 mm. There is a transparent head fairing for homing heads. An upper flat fairing is provided, to which folding planes are attached. In the tail there is plumage from several planes and rudders. The layout is traditional for such weapons. The head compartment is given to the guidance means, behind them is the warhead, and the engine is placed in the tail. The starting weight of the product does not exceed 100 kg.
Combined control and guidance systems have been developed for SPEAR 3. The autopilot of the rocket has the means of inertial and satellite navigation. It is also associated with an active millimeter-wave radar homing head, a semi-active laser and infrared seeker. The rocket has communication equipment and can exchange data with the carrier.
In the future, it is planned to develop devices and software for the group use of missiles in the “swarm” mode. Products will have to exchange information about the goals, distribute them among themselves and respond to changing conditions.
In the tail section of the hull is placed a small-sized short-life turbojet engine Hamilton Sundstrand TJ-150; air intakes are brought to the sides of the rocket. With such an engine, SPEAR 3 will be able to reach high subsonic speeds. Depending on the launch altitude and carrier speed, a flight range of up to 130-140 km will be achieved.
There are several options for combat load. First of all, the rocket receives a high-explosive fragmentation charge. A modification of the SPEAR EW (Electronic Warfare) with an onboard active jamming station is also being developed. It is assumed that such products will be used together with combat missiles and will help them break through the enemy's air defenses.
The SPEAR 3 missile is intended for the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, which determines the range of its future carriers. During the tests, the first carrier of such weapons was the Typhoon fighter. After the next upgrade, combat aircraft will receive similar opportunities. Each of them will be able to carry up to 16 missiles of a new type.
The second carrier of SPEAR 3 will be the F-35B carrier-based fighter. The missiles will be placed in internal cargo bays, up to four each. It is also possible to use an external suspension, but such an increase in ammunition will negatively affect other characteristics.
Perhaps in the future, the SPEAR 3 rocket will be of interest to foreign customers. In this regard, MBDA will have to integrate it into the weapons systems of other aircraft. However, the current trends in the development of foreign military aviation are such that the needs of many customers can be met by deploying missiles only on the F-35.
The goal of the current SPEAR 3 project is to create a promising air-to-surface missile with improved performance characteristics. If MBDA UK copes with all the technical challenges, then the Royal Air Force and the British Royal Navy will receive weapons with special capabilities that compare favorably with the products currently available.
One of the main advantages of the finished SPEAR 3 rocket will be its high flight range. It will be one of the longest-range air-to-surface weapons available to ground and naval aviation, and their operational capabilities will improve.
Jamming missile SPEAR-EW
Of particular importance is the new control system with three different seekers and two navigation methods. It will provide a flight to a given area with subsequent search and defeat of the target. In this case, it is possible to attack stationary and moving targets, both with known coordinates, and with an independent search or by external target designation. The flexibility of the SPEAR 3 will be higher than that of other missiles.
The new missile is being created taking into account plans for the development of military aviation, which is also of great importance. It was originally designed for use on advanced aircraft, taking into account their capabilities and limitations. Thanks to this, the SPEAR 3 product, together with the F-35, will be able to remain in service for a long time and show the required characteristics.
However, there are serious shortcomings. The main one is the total complexity of the project. The need to create and test various devices and software has already led to postponements, and it cannot be ruled out that such events will happen again. In addition, the complexity of the rocket increases its cost. The price of a serial product has not yet been disclosed, but it can be expected that it will not be cheaper than existing samples of its class.
Thus, the UK continues to develop the new SPEAR 3 aircraft missile and expects to get all the desired results in the very near future. According to the previously announced plans, full-fledged flight tests were to take place now, and next year mass production and deployment of missiles among the troops will start.
However, the start of testing has not yet been reported, which indicates the presence of some difficulties and another delay. How serious these difficulties are and whether it will be possible to cope with them within the established time frame is not known. However, it can be expected that MBDA UK will make every effort to fulfill the existing order as soon as possible. Whether she will be able to cope with the tasks, time will tell.