MDBA’s Meteor on target for 2013 entry
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.
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.
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.