UK orders MBDA to launch SPEAR3 missile production

MBDA revealed on January 6 that the UK has contracted it to launch the production of its SPEAR3 network enabled miniature cruise missile, which will become the primary air-to-surface weapon of the nation’s F-35B fleet.

Under the seven-year GBP£550m contract, MBDA will finalise the development of the Selected Precision Effects At Range Capability 3 – or SPEAR3 – air-to-surface cruise missile. Within 18 months, the company will use a Eurofighter Typhoon multi-role fighter to assess the SPEAR3 against UK military requirements in a series of guided firing demonstrations. The firm will also deliver an unspecified number of the munition to the UK MoD, with production of the missile and launched scheduled to begin in 2023.

F-35B and SPEAR3 [MBDA]
MBDA's SPEAR3 network enabled miniature cruise missile will be the primary air-to-surface weapon of the UK's Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II force. MBDA

This new deal comes after MBDA successfully implemented the SPEAR3 weapon development phase contract, which was placed by the UK in 2016. It also follows the awarding of a contract by the MoD in 2019 for the munition’s integration onto the UK’s Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighter fleet.

In a press release issued by the MoD on January 6, UK Defence Minister Jeremy Quinn said: “The development of this next-generation missile will allow us to protect our personnel and assets on the ground, from thousands of metres in the sky above. Our commitment to this system will secure hundreds of highly skilled jobs across the UK and showcase British technology and weapon expertise on the world stage.”

At 1.8m long and powered by a single turbojet engine, MBDA's SPEAR3 miniature air-to-surface cruise missile boasts a range of more than 140km, allowing F-35B pilots to launch the munition at safe stand-off ranges. MBDA

At the contract’s peak, MBDA will employ 570 people to work on various aspects of the SPEAR3 missile’s continued developed at its facilities in Bristol, Stevenage and Bolton. A further 200 jobs are expected to be sustained through the Tier 1 supply chain.

Éric Béranger, the CEO of MBDA, also commented on the new deal in a company press release issued on the same day. He said: “MBDA is delighted to receive this contract, it is the result of many years of hard work by our dedicated and highly skilled engineering team. Stand-off, network enabled, and swarming weapons are a key part of MBDA’s vision – SPEAR is leading the way with these technologies and is the most technically advanced weapon of its type.”

F-35B [MoD Crown Copyright/Cpl Amy Lupton]
The UK currently employs a fleet of 21 Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning IIs. MoD Crown Copyright/Cpl Amy Lupton

In developing the SPEAR3 miniature cruise missile, MBDA has built on the technology developed for other platforms in a variety of its other programmes – such as the Brimstone air-to-ground munition. The company states that the new air-to-surface cruise missile can be launched from the F-35’s internal weapons bay. It adds that the munition “would allow an attack with high precision and low collateral damage at stand-off ranges with a cost-efficient missile, against a very broad range of [land and sea] targets.”

The UK currently employs 21 examples of the Lightning II, after three new aircraft arrived at RAF Marham in Norfolk on November 30, 2020. Later this year, British and American F-35Bs will sail with the Royal Navy’s new flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), on its first operational deployment under Global Carrier Strike Group 21.