|The MBDA Meteor BVR missile.|
As missile technology improves, so do countermeasures. Chaff, jamming, even stealth all serve to reduce the effectiveness of enemy missiles. As countermeasures improve, counter-counter measures need to be developed to regain missile effectiveness, and the cycle continues.
One thing that has stayed true for air-to-air missiles is their propulsion. For the most part, air-to-air missiles have been simple metal tubes with a guidance system up front, warhead in the middle, and a rocket engine in the back propelling the missile to its target.
The MBDA Meteor BVRAAM (beyond visual range air-to-air missile) promises to improve on the current NATO standard air-to-air missile, the AIM-120 AMRAAM (advanced medium range air-to-air missile), by eschewing the traditional rocket motor in favor of a ramjet.
Traditional air-to-air missiles launch towards their target at a high rate of speed, using up all of their fuel in a continuous burn, then coast to the target. Any maneuvering done reduce the total energy of missile, thus making it easier for the target to avoid. The Meteor does not share this limitation, however. It's ramjet is capable of reducing or increasing its thrust in order to alter its speed and range. Instead of coasting, it simply alters its fuel burn rate to achieve the optimum speed and range, ideally running out of fuel at the exact moment it hits its target.
Put simply, while traditional air-to-air missile becomes less effective the further away the target is, the Meteor maintains most of its effectiveness.
The Meteor also uses a 2-way datalink allowing it to share targeting information with the fighter that fired it. That gives it extra accuracy and reduces the effect of jamming or stealth.
|A MBDA Meteor mounted on a Saab Gripen.|
What about the F-35? Originally, the F-35 was supposed to work with the Meteor, but the Meteor does not fit properly in the F-35's internal air-to-air missile racks. A "clipped" version of the Meteor was proposed to rectify this issue, but funding has been cut. It will fit in the internal air-to-ground and external stations, but this comes at the cost of affecting ground attack ability or stealth. In any case, testing has yet to occur.
Oddly enough, the Meteor does not fit in the AMRAAM sized weapons bays of the F-22. The F-22 is also incapable of operating other state of the art missiles such as the high offset boresight (HOBS) AIM-9X and IRIS-T heat seekers. That's right, the most technologically advanced warfighter of the modern age is incompatible with today's most advanced missiles. So far, anyway.