Here’s why MBDA Meteor is the best Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile ever conceived

Combined with stealth the Meteor allows for deadly attacks outside of the envelope where the enemy is able to detect you, let alone identify or track you.

Meteor is the next generation of Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM) system designed to revolutionise air-to-air combat in the 21st Century. The weapon brings together six nations (UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden) with a common need to defeat the threats of today as well as the future emerging ones.

Developed by a group of European partners led by MBDA, the weapon system will equip Eurofighter Typhoon, Rafale and Gripen. It is also compatible with other advanced fighter aircraft and will be integrated to the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

Meteor’s stunning performance is achieved through its unique ramjet propulsion system – solid fuel, variable flow, ducted rocket. This ‘ramjet’ motor provides the missile with thrust all the way to target intercept, providing the largest No-Escape Zone of any air-to-air missile.

‘The key advantage of the Meteor over AIM-120 AMRAAM is different propulsion system,’ Tomaž Vargazon, an aviation expert, explains on Quora. ‘The AIM-120 is a conventional rocket, it contains a block of explosives that is set to fire on one end, can’t be throttled and is extinguished within about 10 seconds. The missile uses that time to gain speed and altitude, at which point it turnes into a glorified artillery shell – albeit one with a radar and internal and external guidance. The missile trades altitude for speed and range from that point on.

‘Meteor uses a ramjet that uses a (more energy dense) liquid fuel and atmospheric oxygen. That allows it to cruise under power and at speed for significantly longer than AIM-120 or R-77 Vympel (Russian analogue to AIM-120).’

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35A Lightning II 56th OG, 61st FS, LF/12-5050 / 2014

Vargazon continues:

‘The difference is that AIM-120 accelerates very quickly for a very short time, then the acceleration stops and the missile soon trades altitude for range. Accuracy and chance to hit drop significantly beyond about 30–35 miles (~50 kilometers) away from the launcher. Meteor accelerates more slowly and to a lower maximum speed, but it accelerates for over 70 miles (120 kilometers), it’s only at that point when missile runs out of fuel that it begins to lose speed and functions as a guided altillery shell. This makes the Meteor very well suited for longer range attacks, over 40 miles (65 kilometers) or more.

‘Combined with stealth the Meteor allows for deadly attacks outside of the envelope where the enemy is able to detect you, let alone identify or track you. It also allows for potshots at AWACS or similar targets over ranges previously only AIM-54 Phoenix was capable of. This significantly complicates protecting airborne assets from threats, the defence envelope needs to be impossibly wide and is vulnerable to pointed attacks.’

Vargazon concludes:

‘I expect European F-35s to carry a mixture of two Meteors and two AIM-120 as a fairly standard internal payload on air to air mission. The Meteors are used to engage targets at range and AIM-120s to take on targets closer than ~30–50 km. Due to the initial burst of acceleration AIM-120 may well do better at medium ranges.’

Photo credit: MBDA and wallycacsabre via Wikipedia

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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