European missile house MBDA has played down the implications of a UK decision to delay the planned in-service date for its Meteor beyond visual-range air-to-air missile until mid-2015, and says the weapon has a crucial role to play in future export sales of the Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen.
Speaking at an annual results briefing in London on 18 March, chief executive Antoine Bouvier said: "Export customers have a very strong interest in the capabilities of Meteor. We are very optimistic about the potential opportunities for Meteor on the export market. There are a number of ongoing discussions."
In development for the UK and five other European nations, the long-range Meteor underwent a series of successful test firings last year, but fell victim of a three-year in-service date slippage with its only current customer for production weapons.
Noting that development activities remain on track to conclude in 2012, MBDA UK managing director Steve Wadey says: "It's important that we work with all of our other partner nations in Europe, as well as other prospective nations, to make sure that we secure production orders." Meteor is also a candidate for Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to be acquired by Italy and the UK, he says, describing the US aircraft as "a very important platform for us".
Separately, Wadey says the UK's MBDA-led Team Complex Weapons organisation expects to receive one- or two-year contract extensions within the next two months for six assessment phase projects formally launched at last year's Farnborough air show.
These include collaborative efforts between France and the UK to develop a new 100kg (220lb)-class air-to-surface guided weapon and to develop capability enhancements for their SCALP-EG/Storm Shadow cruise missile family, plus the UK's Fireshadow loitering munition, which is targeted for operational availability from 2010-11.
Wadey describes the projects as "proving the principles of a different way of working", and leading the way to the planned signature of a long-term partnering agreement with the UK MoD on guided weapons activities. This could be finalised within the next few months to one year, he estimates.
MBDA recorded a 10% reduction in annual turnover to €2.7 billion ($3.63 billion) in 2008 against orders worth €2.35 billion, including exports totalling €1 billion. "In 2009 we see something similar," predicts chief finance officer Julian Whitehead.
Bouvier says his goals for 2009 include establishing a stronger presence in the USA, with the company to open a new office in Washington DC within the coming months. It will also increase internal funding in research and technology by around 20% this year, targeting the investment at emerging technologies in areas such as guidance, navigation and warhead design.