The UK Ministry of Defence has taken the first step in joining the US Army's Common Missile development programme for a next generation anti-tank weapon.

Last month, the UK MoD signed a statement of intent signalling its plan to participate in the common missile project, which will start with the award of four system definition development contracts by the middle of next year.

US Army officials expect to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the UK MoD by next February or March. They had previously hoped to finish negotiating a formal MoU by November.

Previously known as the Common Modular Missile, the fire-and-forget Common Missile will replace Raytheon BGM-71 TOW, and Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire, on ground and helicopter platforms by the end of the decade.

The missile will be fitted with a chemical energy warhead and will probably include a multimode seeker combining millimetre wave radar, infrared and laser sensors. It is believed the UK's involvement could promote interoperability, technology transfer and increase competition.

The Common Missile's risk reduction phase would run until the end of fiscal year 2003, followed by a 48-month engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase.

The UK's financial involvement would be "minimal" with the MoD contributing "a couple of million dollars a year" during the risk reduction phase and an estimated 10% of EMD costs.

An official says: "We have three programme phases. The UK wants to play in all three with certain returns, including access to technical data, a price break on production missiles, and a share of third party sales."

At least 50,000 missiles would be produced for the US Army, but UK, US Navy and US Marine Corps purchases could drive up that figure.

A separate MoU has been drafted which outlines weapon modifications to satisfy USN/USMC requirements that are "significantly different". Competing for the system definition work are BAE Systems North America, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

Two companies may be carried into EMD if funding is available. US Army officials say a US/UK partnership does not guarantee UK industry involvement. "BAE Systems must compete," officials add.

Source: Flight International