The imminent climax of the UK's beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) contest to arm its Eurofighters has brought a rash of government-to-government moves in support of the two contestants. A dispute has also arisen on whether a European or AMRAAM-based missile will best support exports of the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Raytheon, offering derivatives of its AMRAAM missile, and the Matra BAe Dynamics-led five-nation Meteor team are stressing overseas government support of their designs. The most significant move is France's decision to support the European programme.

French defence minister Alain Richard has written to UK defence secretary George Robertson to indicate interest in joining the Meteor programme if the UK selects the missile. France would equip its Dassault Rafales and possibly Mirage 2000s with the weapon. The governments have held two meetings and France has offered to fund up to 20% of the development cost - a contribution of perhaps £100 million ($160 million).

Meteor programme head Peter Richardson says the money would make the programme more financially robust and add French air-to-air missile experience to the industrial team. France is understood to be willing to sign the memorandum of understanding prepared by Meteor partners Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Richardson says a European weapon for a European aircraft is a key to "free exportability under European control."

The US State Department, however, has reassured the UK over export clearance of the AMRAAM. An advisory opinion has been released to Raytheon on exports of its ramjet-powered Future Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (FMRAAM) and rocket-powered Extended Range Air-to-Air Missile (ERAAM). A joint UK/US export working group could be formed to review exports of the weapons not covered by an offer in May last year from US defence secretary William Cohen to Robertson to approve sales to any nation cleared for AMRAAM.

Raytheon Missile Systems vice-president missile systems Jerry Lockhard holds out the prospect of co-operation between the UK and USA over development. He says the US Air Force is likely to buy the more advanced ERAAM or FMRAAM versions if the UK does and will seek a deal to leverage technology between the two nations' missile programmes.

Source: Flight International