USAF F-35 soars with deadly duo: Meteor and SPEAR 3 missiles

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By the end of this decade, the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jet is set to be equipped with two new formidable weapons. Lockheed Martin, in collaboration with allied militaries, is integrating the Meteor air-to-air missile and the SPEAR 3 air-launched cruise missile into the F-35’s arsenal.

Photo credit: UK MoD

The deadly duo

In the not-so-distant future, F-35 pilots will be equipped with Meteor and SPEAR munitions as part of their arsenal. According to a statement made by James Cartlidge, Minister of State for Defense, in response to a pertinent query, “The current arsenal of the U.K. Lightning Force includes the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile [AMRAAM], the Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile [ASRAAM], and the Paveway IV precision-guided bomb. However, both the Meteor and SPEAR 3 are expected to be part of the U.K. F-35s by the end of this decade.” 

Photo credit: Defence Blog

An innovation of MBDA, the Meteor is a high-tech, beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile. Weighing approximately 400 lbs and possessing a range beyond 60 miles, the Meteor offers one of the widest no-escape zones, making it extremely difficult for enemy aircraft to evade an incoming Meteor hurtling at speeds greater than 3,000 miles per hour. The Meteor closely resembles the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, a product of U.S. origin. 

The SPEAR 3, on the other hand, is a precision-guided, standoff cruise missile that is launched from the air. This munition can reach distances of nearly 90 miles and is designed to eradicate high-value targets, such as command and control centers, air defense systems, or logistical nodes, whether on land or at sea. The recent war in Ukraine has underscored the vital role of such munitions. The Ukrainian military has demonstrated the effectiveness of the Storm Shadow and SCALP-EG air-launched cruise missiles against Russian key targets. 

As the F-35 Program continues to attract more European countries [at present, Europe comprises 11 of the 18 participants], it logically follows that Lockheed Martin should include European-manufactured munitions like the F-35 within its offerings.

The F-35

Representing the pinnacle of aeronautic advancement, the F-35 Lightning II is an unparalleled, versatile 5th-generation fighter jet. This exceptional aircraft is available in three distinct variations: The conventional take-off version known as the F-35A; the F-35B, also referred to as the Short Take-off, Vertical Landing [STOVL] variant, which possesses the remarkable ability to launch and land akin to a helicopter; and the F-35C which is expertly engineered for operational use from the deck of an aircraft carrier. 

Notably, each of the F-35 Lightning II versions shares common capabilities and systems, yet the minor performance variations between them are largely due to inherent structural distinctions. An example of these differences can be seen in the F-35C, equipped with an especially sturdy landing gear setup to endure the intense loading strains of carrier-based operations. In addition to this, it is able to carry a larger fuel load, facilitating the execution of over-water missions. 

Photo by Amber Arnold / State Journal

Impressively, all three versions of the F-35 Lightning II proficiently execute a diverse range of mission sets, including but not limited to: Strategic Attack, Air Superiority, Close Air Support, Electronic Warfare, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance [ISR], Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses [SEAD], and Destruction of Enemy Air Defense [DEAD]. 

The F-35 Lightning II has understandably garnered substantial interest globally. As of the most recent count in February, the F-35 program boasts participation by 18 countries, with a growing list of those intent on joining.

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