MDBA’s Meteor on target for 2013 entry

 - July 12, 2008, 3:48 AM

Intended to arm the ‘Euro-canards’ (Gripen, Rafale and Typhoon) and possibly integrate into the RAF’s JSFs, the MBDA Meteor ramjet-powered missile is taking giant strides towards service entry. Recent successful guided firings have paved the way for trials of production-representative missiles, keeping the program on track for an in-service date of 2013.
A multi-national consortium is developing the Meteor to satisfy the future beyond-visual-range air defense needs of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the UK. It is managed by an international joint project office located at the UK MoD’s Abbeywood facility. MBDA serves as the prime contractor, leading a host of suppliers from the six partner nations.

Able to reach out well beyond 100 kilometers, the Meteor employs inertial midcourse guidance with two-way datalink and active radar terminal guidance. An integrated solid-propellant motor initially boosts it off the rail before the switch to variable-flow ducted rocket ramjet power. Bayern Chemie, a subsidiary of MBDA Deutschland/LFK, makes the propulsion sub-system.

A sustainer motor provides the Meteor with exceptional kinematic performance, even at the outer reaches of its range envelope. In turn, this allows it to maneuver hard at long range in a regime where other missiles have little remaining energy for turning. Meteor’s no-escape zone is consequently much larger. For long-range engagements the Meteor would fly a lofted profile with the sustainer throttled back for maximum range and end-game energy. For shorter engagements the missile would fly at full power in a direct dash for the target.

Meteor was first taken aloft on September 9, 2005, by a Rafale M at Istres. From December 11 that year an environmental data gathering missile was tested during carrier operations from Charles de Gaulle, and two days later avionics missile captive-carry tests began on a Gripen to test the integration with the aircraft’s systems. The same week a Typhoon flew with two ground handling and training missiles.

Demo Fault
Firings began with an air launched demonstration phase. The first ALD launch happened on May 9, 2006, when a modified JAS 39A Gripen 39101 fired a missile at around 23,000 feet over the Vidsel range. The weapon launched successfully but failed to transition from booster to sustained power. After a brief flight the missile broke up on command from the ground. With the fault identified and rectified, a second ALD firing took place on May 20. A third ALD firing successfully occurred on September 5. All firings involved seekerless weapons and were intended to demonstrate the weapon’s propulsion and midcourse guidance systems.

Meanwhile, on June 30, tests began of a seeker data gathering (SDG) missile. It lacked any propulsion but used a fully operative seeker head and telemetry system. The SDG was extensively tested aboard a Gripen in various flight regimes.

On May 23, 2007, Gripen 39101 launched a seekerless Meteor in a high-altitude, long-range control and dispersion test flight. Fired over the UK’s Hebrides range from an altitude of 42,650 feet, the Meteor successfully transitioned to the ramjet-sustained phase before flying a pre-programmed profile for several minutes at speeds over Mach 3. During that flight it executed several turns using the weapon’s bank-while-turn capability and maneuvered at the extremes of its kinematic range.

Guided firings
Following successful tests with the missile vehicle and SDG carriage, MBDA readied to enter the guided firing (development) phase, in which complete missiles are tested in a series of trials with increasing complexity. A JAS 39D Gripen undertook the first GF(D) launch at Vidsel on March 6.

Flying at Mach 0.9 and 18,000 ft, the Gripen fired the Meteor at an MQM-107B Streaker target. The missile successfully acquired the target, and during the fly-out demonstrated the successful datalink communication between missile and launch aircraft. The Streaker was programmed to execute an evasive maneuver as the missile approached, yet the Meteor passed within 3 meters of it, well within lethal range. Once past the target the Meteor tested a high sideslip/high angle-of-attack maneuver, beyond the required envelope boundaries. It remained under full control throughout.

Another GF(D) launch was subsequently undertaken at Vidsel, but for the next phase of guided firings the test campaign is moving to the Hebrides range, the launch Gripen operating from Benbecula airfield. Although large, the Vidsel range is not big enough for full-range instrumented tests. Saab is currently under contract to perform Meteor tests until 2010, although a Tornado F.Mk 3 is also to be used in support.

Forthcoming tests will target Mirach 100/5 sub-scale drones, and will explore high-altitude, high-speed intercepts, as well as snap-up and snap-down scenarios. With the design of the weapon essentially fixed, they will focus on qualifying the proposed production build-standard. Changes are expected to be restricted to software and to address industrialization issues. Tests are scheduled to conclude in 2011.   


Kurt Plummer's picture

I always appreciate the sophistication Sweden brings to the table as a total package weapons system integrator outside the U.S. model.
In this, Meteor is certainly an interesting weapons system, although it does beg the question of how much utility a 60nm+ capability will offer against a VLO airframe which can only be seen (at X-Band) 20-30nm away.
Can you fire the weapon with remote shooter:illuminator guidance from, say, an S-band AEW&C platform and use the lower 2-4GHz capability to see the target with sufficient accuracy to align the seeker cube over the target?
Or are you reliant on multi-static flight dispersion and cross-illumination capability to exceed the VLO protected sector?
Also, in an OCA condition, while I can certainly see such a weapon being useful in an IADS compromised 'look-in/shoot-in' environment with limited EA support, when flying at extended ranges with wingtanks compromising total shot counts, the steep drop from 60-80nm to <10nm with the IRIS-T or A-Darter seems to invite a great deal of tactically compromising scenario complexity, should it be deemed necessary to continue the fight after an initial salvo attrition is not completely successful.
Do you fire from BVR and then move a second section in from an offset with a more traditional mix of MRM/SRM? That would seem to obviate the utility of the Shooter:Illuminator approach to engagement as the enemy has a very good idea of flyout times from the standoff launcher and can still work the poles, stressing the kinematics and enabling good towed-decoy planning.
The overall exposure of the airframe would be greatly lessened if the Swedes could either qualify RB.99 to the wingtips and/or employ the original twin-rail launcher intended for the centerline to provide a genuine 2@20nm and 4@60nm capability. Even moving towards a BRU-57 with two MMLs under the wings would be an improvement.
Speaking of designators, does the Meteor yet have an FMV Rb.xx listing?
Thank You.

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