Douglas Barrie/LONDON Andrea Spinelli/GENOA

Potential partner nations in the UK's beyond-visual- range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) programme intended for the Eurofighter EF2000 are haggling with the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) over funding of the £10 million ($17 million) risk-reduction studies by competing teams.

Sources close to one of the possible partner states claim that the friction is the result of the UK trying to maintain complete control over the BVRAAM programme while trying also to persuade other nations to take partner status in the project, with the requisite financial commitments.

The UK MoD on 14 and 15 July hosted a government-to-government-level briefing with Italy, Germany and Sweden to discuss the BVRAAM programme. All these countries have similar AAM requirements, and the programme could be pursued within a collaborative framework.

The argument over funding of the risk-reduction phase is almost certain to have been raised during the meeting. The MoD says that "-financial contributions to the risk-reduction studies are being discussed," but declines to comment on any specific meetings.

Italy is known to be concerned that, while it might provide finance for the risk-reduction studies, it might not be given full access to technical data, particularly from one of the teams, led by Hughes.

Hughes, offering the Future Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile is competing with a Matra BAe Dynamics-led team offering the Meteor missile.

The UK MoD is leaning toward a two-phase procurement for the BVRAAM - a move which militates against a rocket/ramjet design meeting the requirement from the outset. A rocket/ramjet design had been effectively a prerequisite for meeting the MoD's Staff Requirement (Air) 1239 for the BVRAAM because the kinematic engagement envelope for the missile was so demanding.

Sources close to the programme suggest, however, that the MoD's preference is to relax the initial capability for the BVRAAM when it enters service in 2005 - with the full requirement being met by a clear upgrade path at a later date.

This will almost certainly mean that a dual-pulse, solid-rocket-motor design is chosen to meet the initial requirement, with a rocket/ramjet propulsion unit being provided as a part of a later upgrade of the missile.

Matra BAe is expected to offer a dual-pulse solid rocket being developed by German company Bayern Chemie as the initial propulsion design for the Meteor, with a rocket/ramjet option to be included as part of a later upgrade of the missile.

Relaxing the extremely demanding performance characteristics for the BVRAAM is believed to be being driven by two factors: a slowdown in the development of "threat" weapons such as the rocket/ramjet variant of the R-77 (AA-12 Adder), and a desire to reduce the initial development risk.

Italy, even if it does join the BVRAAM programme, is expected to order a limited number of Hughes AIM-120 AMRAAMs to provide an initial active-radar- guided AAM capability around the year 2003.

The MoD had originally intended to select the BVRAAM by mid-1997, but instead opted for two 12-month risk-reduction studies. It says that: "If all goes well, we hope to let a development and production contract in the first half of 1999." This would leave the winner facing a tight time scale.

Source: Flight International