European missile house MBDA has unveiled a family of concept weapons that could arm the next generation of European fighters. Some of these weapons could be developed to arm the current generation of Rafale and Typhoon aircraft, but the main focus is on the European Next-Generation Fighter/Système de Combat Aérien du Futur (NGF/SCAF) project and the UK-led Tempest program.
MBDA has worked with all of its domestic customers to study future airpower requirements, recognizing that the projected improvement in defenses will make air-launched weapons and their carriers increasingly vulnerable. To overcome the defenses of the future increased performance, reduced signature, improved sensors, and greater networking will all be required within weapon systems. Moreover, the effectors themselves have to become part of a connected system of systems, one of the driving forces behind the SCAF program.
The company’s vision encompasses four main categories: deep strike, tactical strike, air-to-air, and remote carrier. Two deep-strike weapon concepts are envisioned—one is a low-flying stealthy subsonic standoff weapon that draws on experience with the current Storm Shadow/Scalp but has a much longer-range capability of more than 1,000 km and penetrating capability against deeply buried targets.
A second deep-strike weapon concept is a high-supersonic long-range weapon that would typically weigh around 1,000 kg. The primary mission would be anti-surface attack, but it could also be used for lethal defense suppression and as an air-to-air weapon against high-value assets such as airborne early warning platforms.
Three tactical-strike weapons are envisioned, including the current Spear weapon that is primarily aimed at the Typhoon and F-35. A further concept that is under active development is the Smart Glider, which could be applied within a few years to the Mirage 2000 and Rafale, as well as to SCAF further in the future.
This compact glide weapon is being developed to provide a high combat mass by being carried six at a time on single smart launchers, permitting up to 18 to be launched by a Rafale, for instance.
By using automatic target recognition, networking, and a level of artificial intelligence built into the effectors, the Smart Glider could be used to undertake swarming attacks to saturate defenses. The company's Smart Cruiser is similar but has a motor to extend its range.
To complement the effectors, MBDA foresees a family of consumable remote carriers similar to the weapons but with mission payloads in place of warheads. These payloads can perform a range of tasks—such as electronic warfare, target designation, and ISR—and can fly ahead of or with a swarm of effectors to enhance its effectiveness. Data gathered by the remote carrier can be fed back to the launch platform or to the effectors themselves.
Two classes of remote carriers are under study—a 100-kg vehicle that can fit the same launcher as the Smart Glider/Cruiser and a larger 200-kg carrier with longer-range and larger payload capability. A much larger remote carrier/loyal wingman vehicle is planned for development as part of the wider SCAF program.
To meet air-to-air requirements MBDA considers that its current Meteor missile forms an adequate basis for evolution to answer future threats, with improved ramjet motors and seekers. However, the company and its development partners recognize that air platforms will increasingly face missile threats without ever detecting the launch platform, and that using soft-kill options such as decoys and jamming to defeat them will be exponentially less effective.
Thus, MBDA is studying small anti-missile missiles that provide a hard-kill defense against attack. The short-range interceptors are likely to be small (less than 1 meter in length) and lightweight (less than 10 kg).