MBDA has delivered the first batch of advanced short range air-to-air missiles (ASRAAM) to the USA, ahead of planned flight trials on board the UK’s Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.
Delivered in January and supported by UK weapons-integration lead BAE Systems, the test examples of ASRAAM will be integrated to become the type's first British-built missile, and will be used during flight trials and air-launch tests this year.
These trials will include environmental data gathering, safe separation from the aircraft, weapon integration testing, and firing trials and target engagement, and will be carried out from NAS Patuxent River in Maryland and Edwards AFB in California. The Royal Air Force's 17 Sqn is based at the latter, where it is responsible for the test and evaluation of the UK's F-35B.
ASRAAM is a short-range, infrared-guided missile capable of flying at Mach 3, and is also carried by the RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoons and Panavia Tornado GR4s.
"The upcoming work to integrate the missile onto the F-35 Lightning II will provide a state-of-the-art weapon for both our RAF and Royal Navy pilots,” says Philip Dunne, British defence procurement minister. “The integration of this missile also demonstrates the success of the UK defence industry's contribution to the wider F-35 programme,” he adds.
Some 15% of every F-35 is being built in the UK, Dunne notes. This includes the manufacture of the aircraft's horizontal and vertical tails, aft fuselage and wing tips by BAE.
The UK has an initial requirement for 48 F-35Bs, and announced in its Strategic Defence and Security Review in November, that it would commit to its plan to acquire a total of 138 of the type, and establish an extra squadron.
Last month it was announced the F-35 will be showcased in the UK for the first time, with several examples set to appear at the Royal International Air Tattoo and the Farnborough air show in July. The short take-off and vertical landing B variant was forced to miss both events in 2014, after flight restrictions were imposed following a Pratt & Whitney F135 engine fire on a conventional take-off and landing F-35A.
One RAF F-35B is expected to be in attendance, while both US Air Force F-35As and US Marine Corps B-model aircraft will participate in flying displays.