Britain’s new stealth fighter jet, the F-35B Lightning II, has carried out its first trials armed with UK-built MBDA ASRAAM air-to-air missiles (AAM).
The jet, which was flown by a British pilot from RAF 17 Squadron, took to the skies from Edwards Air Force Base in southern California for the momentous flight carrying the ASRAAM missiles. ASRAAM stands for ‘Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile’.
The trials were the first-time UK weapons have flown on a British F-35, and represent a key part of the work-up towards Initial Operating Capability in December.
The ASRAAM missiles, built by MBDA in Bolton, are just some of the essential parts the UK is supplying the F-35 programme. The missiles will enable pilots to engage and defend themselves against other aircraft ranging in size from large multi-engine aircraft to small drones.
British companies are building 15% by value of all 3,000 F-35s planned for production. It is projected that around £35 billion will be contributed to the UK economy through the programme, with around 25,000 British jobs also being supported.
The F-35B Lightning multi-role fighter jet is the first to combine radar evading stealth technology with supersonic speeds and short take-off and vertical landing capability. The fighter jets will be jointly manned by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Navy and can operate from land and sea, forming a vital part of Carrier Strike when operating from the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
617 Squadron, based at RAF Marham, will carry out their own weaponry flights in the next few months.
UK Defence Minister Stuart Andrew revealed that a British F-35 Lightning jet reached the landmark milestone whilst he was on a visit to the Defence Electronics and Components Agency (DECA) in Wales. The Welsh site is set to become a global repair hub for the cutting-edge aircraft, providing crucial maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade services for F-35 avionics, electronic and electrical components, fuel, mechanical and hydraulic systems.
“The F-35 Lightning fleet has moved another step closer to defending the skies and supporting our illustrious aircraft carriers with this landmark flight. Exceptional engineering from the UK is not only helping to build what is the world’s most advanced fighter jet, but is also ensuring that it is equipped with the very best firepower”, said the Defence Minister.
“This flight by a British pilot, in a British F-35 jet with British-built weapons is a symbol of the major part we are playing in what is the world’s biggest ever defence programme, delivering billions for our economy and a game-changing capability for our Armed Forces.”
Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM)
The Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile, also known by its U.S. identifier AIM-132, is an imaging infrared homing (“heat seeking”) air-to-air missile, produced by MBDA.
ASRAAM is currently in service in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), replacing the AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile.
The missile is designed to outrange and outrun any other IR missile in service, allowing the pilot to fire and then turn away long before the opposing aircraft can close for a shot. It flies at well over Mach 3 to ranges as great as 50 kilometres (31 mi), considerably over double the range of earlier designs. It retains a 50g manoeuvrability provided by body lift technology coupled with tail control.
The project started as a British-German collaboration in the 1980s. It was part of a wider agreement in which the US would develop the AIM-120 AMRAAM for medium-range use, while the ASRAAM would replace the Sidewinder with a design that would cover the great range disparity between Sidewinder and AMRAAM. Germany left the programme after examining the latest Soviet designs of the 1980s, deciding that a missile with far greater short-range maneuverability was more important than range.
The British proceeded on their own, and the missile was introduced into RAF service in 1998. It has since been selected to replace Sidewinder in the Royal Australian Air Force and is being introduced to the Indian Air Force.
Parts of the missile have been used in the Common Anti-aircraft Modular Missile (CAMM), a family of surface-to-air missiles (SAM) developed by MBDA. CAMM has an updated electronics and an active radar homing seeker compared to the ASRAAM missile.