The UK Ministry of Defence has signed a contract with European missile manufacturer MBDA worth around £184 million to equip the Royal Navy’s new supersonic stealth combat aircraft with the ASRAAM air-to-air missile.
Designed and manufactured in the UK, ASRAAM is a heat-seeking weapon which will give Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Navy F-35B Lightning II pilots, operating from land and the UK’s two new aircraft carriers, the ability to combat air adversaries.
The contract will see MBDA manufacture an additional stockpile of an updated version of the weapon, allowing F-35 combat jets to use the missile beyond 2022. Work to integrate the new missile onto the UK’s F-35 fleet will be carried out under a separate contract.
Minister for Defence Procurement, Harriett Baldwin said: “Wholly designed and built in the UK, this air-to-air missile on our F-35 aircraft will secure cutting-edge air power for the UK for years to come. This contract will sustain around 400 jobs across the country and is part of the MOD’s £178 billion Equipment Plan which is backed by a defence budget that will increase every year from now until the end of the decade.”
Work on ASRAAM will be carried out at MBDA’s new, £40 million state of the art manufacturing facility that is nearing completion in the Logistic North commercial development in Bolton.
ASRAAM, which uses an infra-red seeker, is designed to enable UK pilots to engage and defend themselves against other aircraft. It is capable of engaging hostile air targets ranging in size from large multi-engined aircraft to small drones.
ASRAAM is currently in service with RAF Typhoon and Tornado aircraft and is being carried daily on missions over Iraq and Syria as part of the coalition fight against Daesh.
The updated missile variant being secured under this new contract is expected to enter service on RAF Typhoon aircraft from 2018 and on RAF and Royal Navy F-35 aircraft from 2022, when the current variant will be taken out of service.