The F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jet has successfully conducted its first firing trials of the MBDA Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM).
The trials are the first time a British-designed missile has been fired from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and the first time any non-US missile has been fired from the aircraft.
Conducted from both Naval Air Station Patuxent River and Edwards Air Force Base in the USA, the effort has seen both flight trials and air-launched firings of the ASRAAM successfully take place.
MBDA is currently under contract, awarded in 2016, to produce the highly capable infra-red (IR) guided air-to-air missile for the UK’s F-35s. ASRAAM’s large rocket motor and clean aerodynamic design gives it a high kinematic capability that delivers superior end-game performance compared with other countries’ in-service IR missiles.
The trials were conducted by the integrated test teams at Patuxent and Edwards, which include Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, MBDA and Northrop Grumman.
The development trials work is being conducted under the integration programme for ASRAAM onto the UK’s F-35 aircraft. This effort is currently progressing to plan and these integration activities will allow the Initial Operating Capability of the aircraft by the UK.
MBDA is also under contract for the ASRAAM Capability Sustainment Programme (CSP) to build replenishment missiles for the Royal Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft. The CSP effort makes use of ASRAAM’s commonality with the CAMM missile family, also being bought by the Royal Navy and British Army, to deliver extensive cost savings across the UK Armed Forces.
MBDA has commenced deliveries of a quantity of Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles (ASRAAM) for the forthcoming integration of this infra-red air dominance missile onto the UK’s F-35B. The first missile was delivered to the U.S. during January 2016 in conjunction with BAE Systems (the UK’s F-35B weapon integration lead). ASRAAM will be the first UK missile to arm the F-35B and its integration within the F-35B System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of the programme will give the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Navy’s F-35s a highly capable, passive, Within Visual Range air-to-air capability.
British Defence Minister Philip Dunne welcomed the news from MBDA saying: «The upcoming work to integrate the MBDA Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile onto the F-35 Lightning aircraft will provide a state of the art weapon for both our RAF and Royal Navy pilots. The integration of this missile also demonstrates the success of the UK Defence industry’s contribution to the wider F-35 programme. Around 15% in value of every F-35 is being built here in the UK and the work is invaluable to British industry, supporting thousands of jobs across the UK».
These test missiles will be used during 2016 for a series of flight trials and air-launched firings that are a key step towards the Initial Operating Capability (IOC) of the aircraft by the UK. The trials will include environmental data gathering, safe separation from the aircraft, weapon integration with the F-35’s on-board systems, and lastly, weapon firing trials involving the engagement of targets. These integration activities will take place at both the Naval Air Station Patuxent River and Edwards Air Force base in the USA.
Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile
ASRAAM is the Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile in service with the RAF on the Tornado and Typhoon, the Royal Australian Air Force on the F/A-18 Hornet and on order for the Indian Air Force’s Jaguars.
The missile flies at over Mach 3 and its sleek, agile airframe, powerful motor, sophisticated seeker and software are designed to defeat current and future countermeasures.
With a significant presence in five European countries and the USA, in 2014 MBDA achieved a turnover of 2.4 billion Euros ($2.6 billion) with an order book of 12.6 billion Euros ($14 billion). With more than 90 armed forces customers in the world, MBDA is a world leader in missiles and missile systems.
MBDA is the only European group capable of designing and producing missiles and missile systems that correspond to the full range of current and future operational needs of the three armed forces (land, sea and air). In total, the group offers a range of 45 missile systems and countermeasures products already in operational service and more than 15 others currently in development.
MBDA is jointly held by Airbus Group (37.5%), BAE Systems (37.5%), and Finmeccanica (25%).
MBDA has received a contract worth over £300 million from the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) that ensures the Royal Air Force remains equipped with the highly capable infra-red guided air-to-air missile, ASRAAM (Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile). The contract covers the supply of new missiles to refresh the existing inventory of ASRAAM. Value for money is ensured through the re-use of components from other MBDA products such as the Common Anti-air Modular Missile (CAMM).
The missiles will be produced at MBDA’s new Bolton manufacturing and assembly site that will be commissioned in mid-2016. The engineering activities are being carried out at MBDA sites in Stevenage and Bristol. This programme and associated workload around domestic and export programmes using the core CAMM system, will sustain 400 jobs across the MBDA sites and at a number of other UK suppliers. The sustainment of these production facilities also ensures that ASRAAM remains available for overseas customers and future exports.
Dave Armstrong, Executive Group Director Technical and Managing Director UK of MBDA said, «I strongly welcome this decision. This contract will deliver value to the MoD and keep the Royal Air Force equipped with an air defence capability that provides operational advantage wherever it flies. It illustrates the importance of the joint MoD and MBDA approach to delivering world leading complex weapons capability and will ensure that essential and unique UK skills, technologies and facilities, such as our new £30 million state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Bolton, are sustained for the future. Finally, the RAF’s commitment to this capability will also enhance future export success and we look forward to extending the joint government and industry approach to securing further ASRAAM customers».
Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile
ASRAAM is the most modern air-to-air missile designed to dominate the Within Visual Range (WVR) combat mission. The concept behind ASRAAM is to give the pilot the ability to engage the enemy, fire and get away without risking himself or his aircraft in a dogfight. ASRAAM’s unique capabilities enable it to defeat all short-range missiles, existing or planned, in close-in combat.
The missile system performance is attributed to a revolutionary design concept and state-of-the-art technology providing fast reaction time from button press to end game performance and giving ASRAAM the highest speed of any short-range missile.
ASRAAM’s high speed is achieved by means of a combination of low drag and rocket motor size. By using a 6.5-inch/166-mm diameter motor, compared with other missiles, which use a 5-inch/127-mm motor, ASRAAM has more propellant and can maintain a high speed throughout its flight time.
Designed to out manoeuvre target aircraft in Within Visual Range engagements and to allow launch at high off-boresight angles during such engagements; ASRAAM is a highly agile missile. The exceptional manoeuvrability is provided by a sophisticated control system using innovative body lift technology coupled with tail control.
ASRAAM provides the pilot with the ability to effectively engage targets from gun range to near Beyond Visual Range (BVR). The pilot can identify the threat passively and cue the missile using a Helmet Mounted Display (HMD), Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST) or radar, or it can be cued using third party targeting. The missile imaging infrared seeker allows ASRAAM to fly out to the target passively.
ASRAAM’s maximum range is uncontested, and no other short-range air-to-air missile comes near to this capability, providing the ability to passively home beyond the limits of visual range and well into the realm traditionally thought of as Beyond Visual Range.
ASRAAM can be employed in 3 ways:
For normal engagements of targets in the forward hemisphere, the «lock before launch» capability is used.
Engagement of targets beyond the seeker acquisition range is made possible using the Lock On After Launch (LOAL) capability with target data provided by the aircraft sensors or a third party.
For close-in combat, the aircraft sensors can give target positional data to the missile beyond the seeker off-boresight limits of +/- 90 degrees. This gives the pilot the additional ability to fire an «over-the-shoulder» shot using the Lock On After Launch capability of the missile. In this scenario, the pilot can locate targets behind the aircraft using, for example, the Helmet Mounted Display or third party targeting. In this case, the missile will launch and fly onto the vector provided by the aircraft, and the seeker will acquire the target, engage and destroy it.
ASRAAM is in service with the Royal Air Force as its Within Visual Range Dominance weapon. The weapon is also in operational service with the Royal Australian Air Force on its F/A-18 Hornet.
Already fully integrated with proven reliability on Typhoon, Tornado and F/A-18, ASRAAM is also being integrated onto the F-35 Lightning II.
Proven capability demonstrated by firings from a range of aircraft, including: F-16, F/A-18, Tornado F3, Tornado GR4 and Typhoon aircraft.