Andrzej Jeziorski/MUNICHDouglas Barrie/LONDON

MATRA AND DAIMLER-Benz Aerospace (DASA) are on the brink of signing an agreement covering a joint bid for the Royal Air Force's next-generation active-radar air-to-air missile (AAM). British Aerospace is also looking at joining the team.

Werner Heinzmann, the DASA board member responsible for missile systems, confirms the Matra tie-up, adding that he hopes that BAe and Alenia will also be involved in the bid.

The battle for Europe's next generation of beyond-visual-range AAMs is coalescing round the UK Ministry of Defence's competition for a missile to equip its Eurofighter EF2000s, under Staff Requirement (Air) SR(A)1239.

Initially, it appeared that as many as five teams might bid, led by Hughes, Raytheon, BAe, Matra, and DASA. It now seems increasingly likely that the competition will turn into a transatlantic confrontation between a Hughes-led team and a European consortium.

Hughes is teaming with France's Aerospatiale. Shorts, Thomson-Thorn and Fokker Special Projects are also part of the emerging team, say well-placed sources. Hughes is proposing using the front end of its AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM), coupled with an Aerospatiale variable-flow ducted ramjet.

France's Matra and DASA missile unit LFK, meanwhile, are putting the final touches to a technical agreement covering a joint bid for SR(A)1239. This would draw on elements of Matra's "Mica Rustique" project, which uses a Matra/ONERA-designed self-regulating solid-propellant ramjet.

BAe Dynamics, GEC- Marconi,and Saab have been working on a design (known as S225X) to meet the requirement. Several industry sources now indicate that the aim is to pull together the BAe-led effort with the Matra/LFK proposal under a trilateral agreement.

BAe and Matra have been involved in prolonged negotiations in attempting to merge the two missile companies. The merger has been held up by French Government reluctance to approve the deal without indications from the UK that it will adopt a more European approach to defence procurement.

A joint winning bid for SR(A)1239, and for the RAF's conventional stand-off-missile requirement, on which BAe and Matra are teamed, would give the plan "renewed impetus", admit the two companies.

While the RAF is the first European air force to have a next-generation AAM requirement, to replace the semi-active-radar-guided BAe Skyflash, several other European nations have similar needs.

Germany and Italy are interested in an AAM with a larger engagement envelope than that of the AMRAAM, and the French air force is also looking at a missile with a range beyond that of the present Matra Mica.

The UK is likely to award a contract for SR(A)1239 by the end of 1997, with first deliveries scheduled to begin by 2005.

Source: Flight International