MBDA’s Spear missile, intended primarily for the UK’s F-35 fleet but also for Typhoon, has been fired for the first time. The trial was undertaken in March at the Aberporth range in the Irish Sea from a standard production Typhoon (aircraft BS116), flown by BAE Systems chief test pilot Steve Formoso. During the test the missile righted itself from its inverted carriage position, deployed its wings, started its motor, made a number of maneuvers and flew to a predetermined point of impact.
Spear originated in the UK MoD’s SPEAR (Selected Precision Effects at Range) program to provide five guided weapon capabilities, which crystallized as Paveway IV (Capability 1), Brimstone (Cap 2), Spear (Cap 3), Storm Shadow (Cap 4) and Future cruise/anti-ship weapon (Cap 5).
From the outset the Spear was designed for carriage by the F-35, and had the brief of covering a very wide range of target sets, from traditional armour and naval vessels, to emerging threats such as soft-skinned vehicles on the move and fast inshore attack craft. It had to be network-enabled, with a long reach, and able to be carried in sizeable load.
The F-35 can carry four Spears on a single launcher in each of its weapon bays, plus additional launchers under the wings, for a maximum of 16 missiles. Typhoon will carry up to four three-round launchers on underwing hardpoints.
For guidance Spear has inertial and anti-jam GPS systems, allowing different navigation modes, and an advanced dual-mode seeker that has been extensively tested in a turret mounted under a Piper Navajo testbed. The weapon can be targeted by laser, or an innovative imaging radar seeker that provides a radar ‘picture’ of the target area. This capability permits precise targeting over a wide area, and simultaneous releases against different targets. Spear also has a datalink that allows reprogramming in flight.
A new multi-effects insensitive munition warhead from TDW is employed, the effects of which can be tailored to operational demands. It can produce a tandem shaped-charge effect against armour, blast/frag effect against soft vehicles, and a breach/penetrate effect for hardened structures and buildings. Different fuze delays can be programmed, including in flight.
Propulsion for the Spear comes from a Pratt & Whitney TJ-150-3 turbojet, increasing the Spear’s range to more than 62 miles (100 km) and improving its performance in the end-game. It also overcomes the issues associated with low-altitude launches and headwinds encountered by unpowered glide bombs.
March’s successful first trial was the culmination of the missile’s assessment phase, which was followed in April by a £411m development contract under which MBDA will deliver a weapon that is ready for integration on the F-35B for the UK. No releases from the F-35 are planned during that time, but the successful initial test has given confidence in the overall system. Detailed work is now proceeding on the various sub-systems of the missile.