BAE Systems and MBDA have secured additional funding to complete development and integration of next generation weapons capabilities on the UK and Italian F-35 fleets, which will see the SPEAR surface attack and Meteor missiles able to be fielded by the platform.
The award builds on the integration work that commenced in 2019 by BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and MBDA to upgrade the UK F-35 weapon systems. The integration of SPEAR will enable UK F-35s to engage targets such as long-range air defence systems at over-the-horizon ranges, while Meteor provides beyond visual range air-to-air capability.
A September 17 release from BAE Systems stated that the three companies will commence testing, simulation and integration activities in the UK and US to achieve initial operating capability of both missile systems.
Tom Fillingham, senior vice president, US programmes, BAE Systems’ Air sector, said that the provision of weapons such as Meteor and SPEAR would “provide the UK and Italian armed forces with an operational advantage”.
Elsewhere, Paul Mead, group business development director, MBDA, described the move as a “positive step” for others with a stake in the F-35 programme as it added “additional capability choice” for operators, across multiple variants of the aircraft.
A written UK parliamentary response in June this year from Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin revealed the intention to integrate SPEAR Capability 3 and Meteor onto the F-35 fighter, while SPEAR Capability 5 would be considered for integration “as part of spiral development of UK Lightning” in order to meet future threats.
In addition, “modifications” to the Paveway IV dual mode GPS/INS laser-guided bomb were also being carried out.