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The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) awarded manufacturer MBDA a £184 million ($240 million) contract to supply an updated version of its infrared-guided ASRAAM missile for British F-35B Lightning II fighters. ASRAAM (advanced short range air-to-air missile) will be the first British-designed missile to enter service on the F-35.
ASRAAM is currently in service with Royal Air Force Typhoon and Tornado fighters and is being carried daily on missions over Iraq and Syria as part of the coalition campaign against Islamic State militants, the MOD said. It expects the updated missile variant will enter service on RAF Eurofighter Typhoons in 2018 and on RAF and Royal Navy F-35s in 2022.
New missiles will be produced at a £40 million manufacturing and assembly facility MBDA is building in Bolton, UK, with engineering activities taking place in Stevenage and Bristol. Work to integrate the new missile on the British F-35 fleet will be carried out under a separate contract.
ASRAAM will be carried on the external pylons of the F-35B. “Design and space provision is preserved for internal integration fit within the internal weapons bay and thus remains an option for the future,” MBDA said. Flying at more than Mach 3, the missile can engage air targets ranging in size from large multi-engine aircraft to small drones, the MOD said.
“Wholly designed and built in the UK, this air-to-air missile on our F-35 aircraft will secure cutting-edge air power for the UK for years to come,” stated Harriett Baldwin, UK minister for defence procurement. “This contract will sustain around 400 jobs across the country and is part of the MOD’s £178 billion Equipment Plan which is backed by a defence budget that will increase every year from now until the end of the decade.”