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F-35 to get Meteor, SPEAR 3 ‘by end of decade'

An F-35B with UK-specific ASRAAM, SPEAR 3, and Meteor laid out in front of it. While the ASRAAM is already fielded, the SPEAR 3 and Meteor will not be available until the end of the decade, the government has now said. (Crown Copyright)

The Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning should receive additional UK-specific weapons “by the end of the decade”, the government said on 16 January.

Answering questions in the House of Commons, Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) James Cartlidge said that, with the MBDA AIM-132 Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM) and the RTX Paveway 4 precision-guided bomb already carried by the Lightning, the MBDA Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) and the Selected Precision Effects At Range (SPEAR) 3 air-to-surface munition will be available by 2030.

These outstanding weapons are due to be integrated under the Block 4 capability drop earmarked for the wider international F-35 programme.

As the prime partner for the UK programme, BAE Systems announced in March 2019 that it had begun work to integrate both the Meteor and the SPEAR 3 onto the F-35B. At that time, work was scheduled to be completed by 2025, so this latest announcement by the government represents a delay of approximately five years. While no reasons were provided for the delay, it is likely in part attributable to the ongoing problems with the Technology Refresh 3 (TR-3) that enable the Block 4 upgrade. Aircraft deliveries are now being withheld until the TR-3 issue is resolved.

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