European manufacturer MBDA has unveiled a UK-developed design for a next-generation air-to-surface weapon suitable for internal carriage by the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
To be shown for the first time as a full-scale mock-up at the Farnborough air show, the Spear concept would use a turbojet engine and a wing kit to provide a stand-off range of about 100km (54nm). "Speed and range are the two main drivers" behind this configuration, says Rob Thornley, export working group leader for MBDA UK.
"Another key requirement is to provide multiple load-out on the F-35," says Thornley. The company expects to be able to fit up to four Spear weapons and one Meteor beyond visual-range air-to-air missile in each of the F-35's two weapons bays.
Firm decisions have yet to be made on the final Spear configuration, but MBDA says it will be about 2m (6.5ft) long, carry a multi-effect warhead and use a multimode seeker. The high subsonic-speed weapon will also feature INS/GPS guidance, and be able to receive mid-course updates via an onboard datalink.
The basis of the concept is now in an assessment phase study for the UK Ministry of Defence's Spear Capability 3 requirement. This activity is due to conclude in 2014 with an airframe and propulsion system demonstration using a representative weapon design.
"We are on track, and continue to mature the technologies," says business executive Adrian Monks. However, MBDA acknowledges that the UK's recent decision to revert to the short take-off and vertical landing F-35B "brings some challenges", as the type's weapons bays are shorter than those found on the carrier variant F-35C previously favoured by London.
MBDA plans to contract a European supplier to develop a new, lightweight, two-round rail launcher for the Spear missile, and says it has also identified a number of potential engine suppliers.
Beyond its application for internal carriage by the stealthy F-35, MBDA has also released artwork depicting a multi-role-configured Eurofighter Typhoon carrying 16 of the missiles.
Meanwhile, the company will also detail its self-funded trials work into a new target application for the UK's current dual mode seeker-equipped Brimstone air-to-surface missile at the show on 10 July.
Fired during the Afghanistan and Libya conflicts from Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft, an enhanced version of the weapon is to meet the UK's Spear Capability 2 Block 1 requirements from next year.