Recognising the opportunities presented by Australia's continued recapitalisation programs across Air Force, namely the acquisition of the fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the recent AIR 7003 decision, MBDA has sought to showcase a series of advanced weapons systems designed to enhance the strike capability of the Royal Australian Air Force and its next-generation air combat capability.
Following the government's announcement in late 2018 that General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) and its Reaper family of armed unmanned aerial systems (UAS) had been selected as the preferred medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) aircraft for the ADF, European missile and aerospace specialist MBDA has kicked off its mission to provide Australia's fleet of UAS with a next-generation strike capability.
Russ Martin, head of TMO military advisers at MBDA, outlined the specific-capabilities on offer to the Royal Australian Air Force based on the successful development and integration of key platforms in the UK.
"The UK has been working with Australia for some time on the F-35 and we have seen success between Canada, Aus and the UK on the reprogramming facility in the US, which can be expanded to include weapons systems," he said.
Each of the Reaper variants are operated from a common ground control station and are air-transportable by RAAF C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster airlifters, or independently deployable, providing Australian expeditionary forces with a highly capable, reliable and persistent close-air-support, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset, no matter the variant chosen.
"METEOR represents the next-generation of air-to-air missiles, focusing on an active seeker, a two-way data link and the heart of the step change, a change in the propulsion, from a solid rocket to a ramjet engine. The ramjet technology METEOR is able to redefine the ‘no escape’ zone of an air-to-air missile, increasing previous ‘no escape’ zones by a factor of three at least. METEOR from a joint UK/Australian perspective is available on the F-35B and the F-35A and is a truly fifth-generation weapon for a fifth-generation platform," Martin added.
As part of MBDA's offering, the company showcased a range of next-generation weapons systems, including:
- ASRAAM: In service with the RAAF as the principal within visual range air dominance weapon for the F/A-18 Hornet. With its large rocket motor, and clean aerodynamic design, ASRAAM has unrivalled speed and resultant aerodynamic manoeuvrability and range. ASRAAM gives it a high kinematic capability that delivers superior end-game performance for within visual range air combat, ASRAAM is also integrated onto the F-35.
- METEOR: MBDA’s ramjet powered and network-enabled beyond visual range air-to-air missile, which is widely recognised as a game changer for air combat. Key to this is METEOR's throttleable ramjet engine, active radar seeker and datalink that combine to provide unmatched end-game speed and manoeuvrability at greatly extended ranges, resulting in its all-important ‘No-Escape Zone’ being several times greater than any other existing or planned BVR weapons. Meteor is currently being integrated onto the F-35.
- SPEAR: MBDA’s response to recent conflicts that have demonstrated the need for precision strike weapons that can operate night and day in all weather conditions against severe countermeasures and, importantly, attack moving and manoeuvring targets. Powered by a turbojet engine, SPEAR has over double the range of any glide bomb on the market, providing true beyond horizon reach to ensure that the aircraft remains safely away from hostile air defence units. Weighing under 100 kilograms and extremely compact, up to eight SPEAR missiles can be carried internally by the F-35.
- BRIMSTONE: A lightweight (50 kilograms) strike missile with an advanced dual-mode mmW/SAL seeker offering a unique capability of engaging a wide range of target types, including fast moving vehicles/vessels in both land and naval environments and in both direct and indirect modes. Operationally proven with unequalled mission success rates across multiple theatres, Brimstone has proved to be unique in its ability to perform surgical strikes in time and collateral critical missions. Brimstone is the only missile that has been proven for use from all platforms – UAVs, fast jets, helicopters, maritime and surface platforms.
- MMP: The only fifth-generation anti-tank missile in service today, and it has been designed for dismounted infantry as well as for integration on man and unmanned combat vehicles. MMP is unique in featuring both fire-and-forget and operator-above-the-loop operation, in having a selectable effects warhead, and that in being network-enabled MMP can also receive third party target designation for indirect firing scenarios.
- ENFORCER: MBDA’s answer to the need for a lightweight, high precision weapon, with stand-off capability for infantry and special forces, at an affordable cost. The disposable, shoulder-launched guided weapon system Enforcer can be used to engage a broad variety of targets at ranges beyond the capability of currently available infantry weapons, including lightly armoured static and moving targets, and threats behind cover.
"Brimstone is the heart of UK COIN operations and as such is a requirement on all UK offensive platforms. This will see Brimstone in service in the future on the UK Protector RPAS and AH-64 Apache series attack helicopters," Martin said.
Moving to the AIR 7003 RPAS program, Chris Wells, MBDA export sales manager, told Defence Connect, "We believe that both the Protector and Brimstone package will provide a significantly capability enhancement for Australia, enabling closer collaboration and partnerships across industry and operational grounds."
Martin expanded on these comments, saying, "The UK recently signed the integration contract to weaponise Protector with Brimstone giving the UK, the capability from 2023. With Australia’s focus in 2019 on a downselect for its RPAS requirement, the UK is keen to explore any synergies between the respective Australian and UK requirement."
Building on this, Wells, was quick to expand on the industrial opportunities for Australian industry. He told Defence Connect, "MBDA, which currently provides the ASRAAM for the RAAF's Hornets, maintains and services the weapons at a specialist facility on the outskirts of Sydney."
Project AIR 7003 Phase 1 is calling for a MALE UAS, colloquially known as self-piloted killer drones. Team Reaper Australia is an industrial team drawing on the expertise of companies including Cobham, Raytheon Australia, CAE Australia and Flight Data Systems, and now includes TAE Aerospace, Rockwell Collins, Ultra Electronics Australia, Airspeed and Quickstep Holdings.
Over the coming years, Australia will purchase 72 of the advanced fifth-generation fighter aircraft as part of the $17 billion AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program – which is aimed at replacing the ageing F/A-18A/B Classic Hornets that have been in service with the RAAF since 1985. The F-35A – the variant chosen by the RAAF – will have with a projected life of 30 years in service.
More than 340 F-35s are operating today with partner nations, more than 700 pilots and 6,500 maintainers have been trained, and the F-35 fleet has surpassed more than 170,000 cumulative flight hours.