Stewart Penney/LONDON

US President Bill Clinton has written to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair offering to link future US long-range air-to-air missile development with the UK's Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM) programme. Clinton's move comes shortly after France joined the pan-European Matra BAe Dynamics-led Meteor team which is competing against a Raytheon team offering a development of the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM).

In the 4 August letter, Clinton describes BVRAAM as an "important opportunity for Anglo-US industrial co-operation" which can "foster transatlantic co-operation".

The combined missile development will bring "continued interoperability to the [NATO] alliance", he suggests.

Clinton adds that the USAir Force has briefed the Royal Air Force on its long-term missile development plans. The US armed forces have road maps for AMRAAM development to 2010 and beyond. Planned upgrades include changes to the propulsion system, seeker and guidance system.

European industry is concerned that a win for the Raytheon-led team will hand all future missile development to the USA, which it views as already having a monopoly in long-range air-to-air missiles. Clinton says a UK/US BVRAAM missile will have a strong industrial base in the UK. Team Meteor brings together Europe's missile houses and already provides a strong base, argues an industrial source. Raytheon has also gathered a group of European companies to develop its Extended Range Air-to-Air Missile and Future Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles.

BVRAAM is scheduled to enter service on RAF Eurofighters in 2008, and a major concern in Europe is that the US will block exports of European aircraft armed with AMRAAM and its derivatives. US defence secretary William Cohen wrote to his UK counterpart George Robertson in May last year to quell this fear.

Source: Flight International