Raytheon of the USA has supplied the UK Ministry of Defence with cost estimates on buying several hundred Amraam AIM-120 B missiles for use on Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado F3s and Eurofighter EF2000s as an interim weapon while a next generation missile is developed.

The estimates were delivered in the second week of September and are the precursor to negotiations to provide missiles for the Tornado next year and then for the Eurofighter, to meet its planned in-service date of 2004.

The USA has declined to sell the RAF the improved C version of the missile now being built for the US Air Force, telling the MoD it would have to settle initially for the B version which is already in service on Royal Navy Sea Harrier F/A 2s.

Getting the weapon into service with the Eurofighter is a key part of Raytheon's strategy to beat a rival Matra BAe Dynamics-led team to a contract to develop a new beyond visual range air-to-air-missile (BVRAAM) for the RAF fighter.

Raytheon, which leads a US/ European consortium including Shorts Missile Systems, Aerospatiale Missiles and Thomson-Thorn Missile Electronics, recently disclosed that it has offered the RAF a second missile option between the Amraam B and its full future medium-range air-to-air missile (FMRAAM) bid to meet the SR(Air) 1239 requirement.

Known as the Eraam, the interim weapon offers a less-capable dual-pulse motor in place of the liquid-fuelled ramjet of the FMRAAM. Raytheon claims Eraam could be available by the Eurofighter in-service date, and has 80% of FMRAAM performance at half the price.

Given MoD budget limitations and the fact that the threat on which SR (Air) 1239 requirement is reduced, Raytheon may hope that a staged approach to an eventual FMRAAM in-service date beyond the 2008 timeframe may find favour.

The UK's Eurofighter partners and Sweden are watching developments on SR(Air) 1239 to see whether a collaborative purchase can be made. Matra BAe Dynamics is using the restructuring of the European missile industry as an argument for selection of its new Meteor missile as a programme around which the air-to-air missile manufacturers can coalesce.

Source: Flight International