Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Quadruple Spear 3s size then upgrade it’s software and we have an anti ship missile don’t we?? Hell we have a cruise missile just make it containerLaunched and packed capable….

Meteor missile sure looks great doesn’t it?, its a great missile, wonder what will replace that or even Meteors next upgrade, anyone know?? .

Last edited 3 years ago by Cam

None of the things you’re suggesting are easily done. Engineering isn’t a case of simply taking what works and making it triple the size.

As for upgrading its software, once again not a simple task, and in what way are you suggesting it needs upgrading to function as an AShM?


I’m not saying it needs upgraded or I never said it would be easy either. And I know Engineering isn’t as simple as making things bigger it’s far more complex but Mindy can solve those problems ( cue where would we get it), but as General Monty used to say “it can be done”


The UK through MBDA are in collaboration with Mitsubishi, Japan, to further develop Meteor. Japan already produces the The Type 99 (AAM-4B) active fire and forget missile, used by its F15s etc. This is the first air to air missile to carry an AESA radar. However, it is too big for the internal bay of a F35. The collaboration between Mitsubishi and MBDA is to fit a development of the AAM-4’s AESA radar on to the Meteor.

Meteor uses a pulse doppler radar, which is very good, but can be more easily jammed and detected. Using a AESA will help broaden the bandwidth the radar operates in, significantly increase the sweep rate and lessen the chances of it being detected or being jammed.

The one issue they will have to solve though, is developing a gimbal for the AESA panel, otherwise its forward looking cone will be too narrow, especially when it gets close to the target which is probably pulling high G manoeuvres. Perhaps the swash plate that the Captor-E uses may be “borrowed” as the basis for giving the panel a wider view.

Why is this important? The active pulse doppler radar currently fitted to Meteor is mounted on a 2 axis gimbal that gives it a high off boresight view. Therefore it can search for and track a highly manoeuvring target. The majority of AESA radars have their panel array fixed in one position (the exception being Typhoon or the AN-APY-9 mounted on the E2D). Due to the physics that is used for radar beam steering, AESA panels generally have a fixed field of view of +/- 60 degrees in azimuth and +/- 45 degrees in the vertical. This gives a large forward window, but as it get closer to the target the window gets smaller. If the target is manoeuvring then it could quite easily disappear beyond the limits of the “window”, out of view. This is why a gimbal will be vitally important for a missile using an AESA radar.


Thanks for that DaveyB, interesting.


Really interesting. I’ve read elsewhere that Meteor is the best AAM there is (far better than AMRAAM) so assume this upgrade will make it by far the premier air to air weapon?


Actually you could just cant it and 45° and mount it on a revolving platform, in the XY plane (Z is the direction of the missile.
Now it has a MASSIVE windowamd can even decide to not revolve and just track.

They use a similar system on the Type 45’s SAMPSON radar, two AESA panels mounted back to back and on a rotating platform. You sum the ability of beam steering that AESA gives you AND the speed of revolution.

So not only does spinning AESA on meteor give you that huge aspect, but increases the beam ability in the same manner, AESA + revolving.

Dogs Nads

As DaveyB mentions the Meteor-JNAAM is under development for fielding in 2025. No UK orders for it yet, but suspect it will be Meteor Mk.2 and any UK buys from 2023 of Meteor will be deferred as the AESA offers a massive advantage.

The other development was mentioned by both MBDA and RAF at DSEi 2019. That was using Meteor as a Anti-Radiation Missile (ARM), like HARM or ALARM. Few details were given but it was implied that the AESA upgrade as part of JNAAM would give Meteor the capability to be used as a high speed/long range ARM against high value radar targets (like S-400/S-500).

Humpty Dumpty

Interesting point about the possibility of an ARM variant of Meteor to take out S-400/S-500. This is capability we certainly need. It could also be used against mobile anti-ship missile launchers like DF-21/DF-26. That said, the radar doesn’t need to be in the same location as the launcher. Ideally we need a way to take out the launchers and the missiles on them, not just the radars, as well as the locations where mobile launchers get refuelled and rearmed.

Last edited 2 years ago by Humpty Dumpty

Have a read about SPEAR-3 And SPEAR-EW
Smart swarming and loitering mini cruise missiles, they can collectively attack an A2AD site, EW loitering and jamming with a swarm (16 missiles from an G35 two ship) of the warhead SPEAR-3 scanning, identifying and delegating targets.

They can kill A2AD
They can perform precision swarm attacks on ships, precisely targeting critical components for a mission kill.


And it can perform various EW attacks like jamming and overloading the target radar, damaging it.



Humpty Dumpty

Regarding an anti-ship missile I agree. Even a variant of SPEAR 3 that was twice as long, but retaining the same diameter, would mean that an F-35B could carry 4 internally (instead of 8) as well as 2 Meteors. This would mean that SPEAR 3 would have longer range and a larger warhead. And if SPEAR EW ever gets built, 3 SPEAR 3s and one SPEAR EW would increase the likelihood of the 3 missiles hitting their target and not getting shot down. Making SPEAR 3 able to accelerate in its terminal phase would also make it more effective.

As for a cruise missile, if a carrier group is staying out of reach of DF-26 or Kinzhal then even TLAM wouldn’t have the range to reach land. A new variant of TLAM is required that’s far longer ranged, stealthy and able to accelerate in its terminal phase. Then we should fit Mk 41 VLS to the Type 45s and buy this improved variant. We should also buy Tomahawk Block Va, which has a range of 1,600km and which outranges Kalibr, Oniks and YJ-18.

As for Meteor it certainly looks like an impressive weapon because of its throttleable engine and resistance to ECM. It’ll be getting an AESA radar due to collaboration with Japan (although how long that will take to develop, build and fit to the F-35 is anyone’s guess, years probably) and I hope the AESA radar will be able to be rotated (and not fixed) like the Typhoon’s new AESA radar.

I’d also like to see a variant of Meteor with IR guidance in addition to radar guidance as well as a version that can outrange any existing or planned Russian or Chinese BVR AAMs.

Fitting BriteCloud to the F-35s would be sensible to make them more survivable (especially if carrying ordnance externally), as would IRIS-T which can shoot down SAMs and AAMs.

Two final points:
– We urgently need a way to take out mobile land-based anti-ship missile launchers and mobile SAM launchers and/or the locations where they get rearmed and refuelled.
– Our ships need anti-torpedo torpedoes. We should test SSTD CAT, SeaSpider, MU90 Hard Kill and Tork to see if they work as advertised.

Last edited 2 years ago by Humpty Dumpty

Its all getting more complex and expensive so its good to have weapons that build from Spear3 and Meteor. What are the chances of a land attack large Meteor is going to form the basis of the Anglo- French FCASW? I like Spear3 as due to its light weight it shows good promise to be fitted onto larger size drones that will fill the gap in Carrier strike due to limited numbers of F35s.


Also am I right in thinking SPEAR 3s ENGINE can run for TWO HOURS,?..

Last edited 3 years ago by Cam
James Fennell

140km range – a mini cruise missile

Phillip Johnson

Spear 3’s gross weight is 100kg so a warhead of less than 10Kg is probably right. With a small warhead the guidance is going to have to be pretty good to achieve more than limited damage to most targets.

Peter S

Spear 3 is stated to weigh more than 100kgs, twice that of Brimstone. Yet the 2 missiles have same length and width. Is this right and does anyone know exactly how powerful the Sp3 warhead is?


Are you sure about the guidance comment? I have never seen IR mentioned anywhere. It is essentially the homing head of “Dual Mode Brimstone” i.e. MMW wave radar and Semi-active laser on the same missile. I have seen the MMW radar described as being able to “image” the target for aim point selection.


The Spear 3 will have a triple mode sensor, i.e. active radar, IIR and laser homing. Although Spear 3 uses some development parts from Brimstone, it is a new development. The radar it uses operates in the W band somewhere near 90 GHz. This means the wavelength is about 3.333mm peak to peak. A wavelength this small will give excellent target resolution. However, it will be highly attenuated due to atmospherics, so relatively short ranged. The radar is a development of the one used in Brimstone 2. It has the ability of generating a very high resolution image of the target, which is compared against a library of images to make sure it is targeting the correct target. it also uses a bit of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to recognise the weakest point of a target. If it is a tank, then it will recognise the turret roof as the weakest point and target it. If there are other missiles in the group, they will talk to each other to make sure they are not duplicating targets. The missile will then programme the warhead for maximum effect. Spear 3 also has this same capability. Unfortunately, MBDA’s blurb hasn’t given any insights to the Imaging Infrared (IIR) sensor it uses. However, they do have a number of other missiles with highly capable IIR sensor such as ASRAMM etc which could be used a foundation for Spear 3’s sensor.

Dogs Nads

I’ve never seen anything about Spear being Tri-Mode. All sources seem to agree its GPS/INS, MMW and SAL. The MMW produces an ‘image’ but apart from speculation in the early days everything since points to MMW/SAL only.

SDB2 was supposed to get a Tri-Mode seeker with IIR but the US appears to have backed away from that for a later date. Current SDB2 production is focused on Dual Mode (with GPS/INS).


All the MBDA blurb states it is a triple mode sensor.

Dogs Nads

Not seen that in any MBDA documentation or write ups. There was speculation early on that that would be the case. Recently they’ve called it Multi-Mode only. They haven’t mentioned IIR. Just MMW and SAL.


Nuts, I’ve seen two different descriptions from MBDA themselves, which doesn’t make sense? One says it is the same as Brimestone, i.e. mmW radar, semi-active laser home combined with INS/GPS. Whilst another says it has mmW radar, IIR and semi-active laser homing. I guess we are going to have to wait and see when they go into production!


I’m not sure what this missile is for. It’s too expensive for use against low value targets but too small and short ranged for effective use against high value well defended targets. For a lot less than £800m we could have integrated Storm Shadow to the F35 and shared the inventory between the RAF and the RN and bought a modest number of air launched ASM’s such as NSM or LRASM to fit to a proportion of the F35’s.

It’s disappointing to hear that all F35’s won’t receive Meteor and Spear and as the article says, Spear does not meet the requirement to be able to launch outside of the engagement envelope of the sort of SAM systems that the Russians will sell to anyone. The missile requires the aircraft to go into the SAM engagement envelope and rely on stealth to avoid it being engaged. We know that Russia and China are spending huge sums to develop the capability to track stealth aircraft. If that investment continues to erode the advantages of stealth, that leaves the F35 at far greater risk than a much earlier generation aircraft with a proper stand off missile.

Dogs Nads

Only 1 UK F-35 will definitely require the full $27m upgrade. Thats BK-03 the 3rd UK F-35 delivered. There is a possibility that the 4 F-35 from LRIP 8 may also require that upgrade or a slightly less expensive one. Beyond that the UK F-35 are mainkly requiring minor hardware upgrades and software upgrades.

The reason why MoD may be thinking of not going for the full upgrade of the fleet is that BK-03 will be 15 years old by the time that the Blk.IV upgrade is here, along with the 4 F-35 from LRIP 8 they may just decide to assign them permanently to 207 Squadron as dedicated training assets and spend the money on a couple more new Blk.IV F-35. If thats their intention it makes some sense. Those 5 would still be Block 3F combat capable (Asraam, Amraam and PWIV) but could spend their days training the rest of the force in the UK whilst retaining some combat potential.

As to SAM envelopes….don’t believe the hype….and then go and look at radar horizons….then you’ll understand.


Is Spear intended to eventually replace Brimstone? If so then as a air-ground missile against vehicles and soft targets, with SEAD and ASM capabilities thrown into the mix it’d make sense.

Either way FCASW will be needed to provide a proper heavyweight ship killer and bunker buster in place of Storm Shadow.

Dogs Nads

No. Brimstone and Spear share some similarities but Brimstone 3 has only just entered production. Spear will be fast jet only. Brimstone will also be used on Apache and Protector.


If a pilot approaches a S400/500 SAM system flying straight and level at 20,000ft, then yes they deserve to be shot down, if we were faced by this system in a conflict. However, not withstanding the incredibly low radar cross section (RCS) of the F35, even a Typhoon can get close enough to launch Spear 3s at it, without putting itself in too much danger.

The method they would use would be a low level approach. This means the radar horizon will be much closer to the S400/500 system than at higher level. It also means that the aircraft can use natural topography to hide behind as it approaches. Russia are well aware of the fallibility of the S400 system, which is why it is teamed up with a SHORAD system like Pantsir.

MBDA have not stated if the range given is for a low level approach, high level or what the aircraft’s speed was when it released the weapon. Therefore the actual range is a moot point. But if the F35 was acting purely in the ISTAR role for a couple of Typhoons and detected the S400 system. Its a very good chance that none of the aircraft will be detected and that the Typhoons could release a number of Spear 3s at it with a very good chance of success. The probability of success would increase further by using Spear-EW as part of the strike package.


Surely approach height is irrelevant if the missile is going to be networked enabled as stated? A/C launches weapon from a far greater distance and out side radar horizon, and the weapon is directed in on its target via L16 uplink.

Paul T

I’ll stick my Neck out and say £800 million for Spear 3 seems a High Price to Pay.Surely it and Sea Venom should have been Combined into a Single Weapon System being Capable of Multi Platform Launch.


The idea of multiple Spear 3’s being able to swarm and hit a target for the same price as a single heavyweight ASM is interesting but ultimately it’s not going to have a big enough warhead to be a real ship-killer and as the article points out the shorter range would put an F35 uncomfortably close to the target.


You have a point, however they could be used in combination.

Use a SPEAR swarm to blind the ship for follow-up/simultaneous attack by a single FCASW


It depends on how the ship is targetted – if the radar imager on Spear 3 is capable of guiding the missile to specific points on the ship then you don’t need a huge warhead – imagine the damage caused by the onboard detonation of a missile magazine + propellant for example. Or as the article says if the missile takes out a really important radar antenna such that the ship cannot fire its missiles then it is basically out of the fight.

For hitting something like an aircraft carrier or LPH the missiles could be programmed to target helicopters / aircraft on the flight deck with the intention of detonating onboard fuel and munitions. Alternatively the swarm could be programmed to blast several holes in the flight deck and make it unusable.

Warships are basically floating ammo dumps and you just have to hit them in the right place for the whole lot to go up.

Supportive Bloke

Which is why the ammo is well protected.

Why do you think there is armour, water tanks etc between the hull and the explosives stuff?

Target shape recognition has long been part of smart munitions so homing in on a particular feature of a ship, such as a radar dome, is nothing new. No need for radar homing missiles.


Absolutely take your point that even a missile with a relatively small warhead can seriously ruin an enemy ships day if targeted properly, and as Bob said in his response multiple Spear used to swarm and overwhelm air defences to allow a FCASW to get through and deliver a killer blow would be a potent threat.

A heavyweight missile will still be required though and as Sunmack said further up the page if Spear 3 isn’t to replace Brimstone then not sure quite what it is for.


Spear 3 isn’t meant to replace Brimstone, but complement it. It’s effectively Brimstones big brother, 100 kg as opposed to 50kg missile with just over double the range. Yes it uses some of the technology from Brimstone, but affords the aircraft a greater standoff range then Brimstone does (different propulsion system), and has some other features that should help it achieve some success as a strike weapon.


Brimstone and Spear 3 have two distinct roles. Brimstone was originally designed to kill tanks. It was supposed to give Harrier an alternative to using cluster munitions. With that in mind Brimstone should be looked at as a close support weapon, primarily based on its supersonic speed and shorter range.

Spear 3 is designed to give an aircraft a flexible stand-off missile, specifically to target air defence systems and other high value targets near the conflict’s front line. Hence the subsonic speed = longer range, plus the ability to loiter.

The missile should not be looked at in the same context as Sea Venom, which is more similar to Brimstone. However, after finding that Brimstone 1 could be targeted against specific buildings with enough accuracy to aim for a window, door etc. The missile developed into the Brimstone 2, with an multi-effects programmable warhead which has combined a tandem shaped charge with a directional fragmentary warhead.

Because the radar produces a very high resolution image and has AI to recognise weak spots on a target. It means it can be used against a plethora of different types of target, ranging from helicopters, slow flying UAVs, MBTs, armoured vehicle, bunkers, heavily defended buildings and boats. It could almost be thought of as a sniping missile for aircraft, but with low collateral damage if required.

Spear 3 builds on the experience gained from operational use of Brimstone. The RAF wanted the same capabilities, but with further reach. To gain the range the rocket motor has been replaced with a small turbojet and a set of wings added to provide some additional lift.


Another excellent article. Well done.

Supportive Bloke

I enjoyed reading that.

You have again expressed something quite complex in a comprehensible format! Not easy.

There is a fantastic new series of munitions on the development and production pathway.

Hopefully the modernisation budget will allow all these much needed munitions to be accelerated and thereby the RAF/RN helicopters, F35B’s and ships to be made very impressive platforms.

This puts CSG on a whole different level once this comes to fruition.


As I understand it Sea Venom, which has a 30kg warhead, is guided onto key components of its corvette sized target by a Wildcat operator. Brimstone’s image database can identify and target the turret on a target tank. If Spear 3, which has a 10kg warhead, is to exert a similar disabling effect on a ship its AI software needs to be able to recognise a ships mast. I think this kind of capability is now a known science but unlike Brimstone, Spear 3 is sub sonic. So whereas a tank or an IFV is almost defenceless against Brimstone ( or Spear 3) I suspect a modern frigate equipped with decent CIWS could shoot down several incoming Spear 3. We still need a heavyweight AShM capable of evasive manoeuvres.


I always really enjoy these technical articles. The one on the 30mm cannon also great!

Sounds a bit like some of our other programmes: we’re on the verge of absolutely first class system, but we cheap out / go to slow on the last critical components (FFBNW) despite having already spent billions!

Interesting comparison with the NSM / JSM. This weapon feels like it is still needed to finish off a surface combatant after the SPEAR III has achieved a mission kill. As JSM has been integrated onto F35 by the Norwegians it would make sense to get some for SSM and AShM?

As others have noted it would be great to get Storm Shadow integrated as that would give a stand off capability (and would reduce the demand on Submarine launched TLAMs). Would an F35B be able to carry two, a full fuel load and some AAMs and get off the deck?

That said SPEAR III sounds like a world beating piece of kit with loads of export potential – and with Meteor and ASRAAM (both of which are better than US equivalents) will give our Carriers perhaps even greater lethality then the yanks…. once its all integrated and assuming we keep buying F35s of course….

Trevor H

12 F35s with 8 missiles is 96 missiles to fire. Thats 12 ships knocked out of action, or 96 tanks.
Or 1 big missile per plane that misses or gets knocked down….
Do the math as our North American cousins say.

The big question on all sides is where is the enemy in a big Ocean?


Your maths are wrong.

I think you underestimate the ability of a peer to kill not only the archer but the arrows too.

Last edited 3 years ago by X

I can’t believe you just multiplied cabs by missiles and instantly translated that into mission kills.


I think Trevor really meant percentages. Having a greater number of Spear 3s gives a greater chance of some them getting through a ships air defences. Whereas using a smaller number puts the advantage in the favour of the ship’s defences.


Great article. Huge reality check on CS capability effectively until mid 2020s we’re not going to provide a great deal of stealth strike capability against a peer force.

Trevor H

We need a competition to give SPEAR3 a snappy name.
Mosquito (!)
Black Widow

Strike (the butcher bird)
Harrier (?)
Vulture (!!)

Trevor H

“Shrike”… sad we have no edit.


Harrier or Mosquito to honour iconic British aircraft would be good. Locust or Black Widow may be a bit too aggressive nowadays when they seem to go for softer names like Protector and Guardian.


Fired by lightening, the Thunderbolt.

Dogs Nads

It has a name….

MBDA call it Spear.

Simon m

To cut through the rubbish basically there’s SPEAR CAP 1-5. We (the UK) have 1,2,3, 4ish & are waiting on 5 with a prevailing wind we may possibly get both a supersonic missile we (allegedly) don’t want & a subsonic missile we do want by 2030.

Budget cuts came suddenly cap 4 is being completely replaced by 5 & a very mediocre barely mentionable upgrade is done on 4. If a proper upgrade was done on 4 we wouldn’t have a capability gap & be buying an I-SSGW as we’d have a weapon capable of doing that with minimal investment.

Added to that based on history the most effective AShMs are air launched. So why is the RN pursuing ship launched? because they won’t get it past the RAF who don’t want F35B CSG to be too powerful & undermine Typhoon and tempest.
However, carrier strike is supposed to influence (by threat) the land domain I’m not sure how with no credible amphibious force & no first day of war weapons other than some ageing TLAMS in very limited numbers in our precious SSNs. Now at an almost cold war focus is back we will want to limit their exposure.

The position of one will now almost always likely be known due to accompanying the CSG. Therefore we will likely have only one SSN worth of missiles for land attack for any mission 2 at a push.

The best use of money would’ve have been to invest in Storm Shadow so that it’s useful past 2030 & integrate on F35B .
The navy should simply upgrade Harpoon to the latest standard.
The FCASW has so many launch platforms lining up for it will be if we’re lucky 2040 by the time they get integrated at huge cost on every one. Will Tempest be first in line? I think so. It is also likely to be more expensive than Storm Shadow especially if spread across the years of the program so money invested in SS would’ve have been well spent.

The crux of the matter F35B is not an RAF only asset & will as a result only receive CAP 1 & 3 meaning that Typhoon/Tempest remains critical to UK defence/attack & the RAF ensure their premiere air service position as they have CAP 1-5 (minus 4 unless they are sneakily getting this through subsonic FCASW or squeeze another upgrade in to Storm Shadow).
This is also pretty obvious in that Brimstone is being upgraded but not added to F35B.

We have 2 fleets of aircraft not the 4 or 5 we used to have there shouldn’t be excuses for not integrating all the Capabilities to these 2 dwindling fleets to max value for money out of the platforms.

Call me a cynic…..


I fully agree with regards integration- although I’d add our rotary wing fleet into the mix.
RN Wildcat gets Martlet and Sea Venom, but neither will be loaded for AAC Wildcat or Apache (I think that Martlet at least would come in handy); F-35B doesn’t get Sea Venom, even though they are supposed to be our primary maritime strike platform. Neither RN or AAC Wildcats, nor Merlin, will see Brimstone- and I haven’t seen much about Apache integration for a while either. RN Wildcat and Merlin get Stingray, but F-35B and P-8A don’t. AAC Wildcat only gets GPMGs and M3Ms.
I’m less fussed about Spear 3 for rotary wing platforms, but the shorter range stuff we have should be shared across all of our aircraft types.

John S C Lewis

SPEAR 3 s clearly designed for use against small land targets, with the launch aircraft staying outside most air defences. The “swarm” attack on naval vessels is an interesting idea, and could work well up to frigate-sized ships. As such, SPEAR 3 will provide an important role in dealing with land and l naval targets that are too well defended or inappropriate for SPEAR 2 without using larger cruise missiles. However, I cannot see this being a satisfactory solution for dealing with any vessel from destroyer size upwards. It is imperative that the Interim SSM as well as a credible air-launched heavy anti ship / land attack missile is procured for the surface fleet and the F35 as quickly as possible.


I understand it is Payveway IV, AMRAAAM, and ASRAAM.

Andy a

Sorry I’m no expert but can you explain why we spend the money on meteor and storm shadow and then not intergrate them onto the other main platform f35? Surely against a kirov battle ship spear will be useless even in a swarm? How would we sink a larger target? Also what will f35 use in an anti air role if not using meteor? Is this penny pinching or am I missing the reasoning?