Carriers’ F-35 jets to get next-generation air-to-ground missile

Strike fighters flying from Royal Navy aircraft carriers will be armed with the next-generation of lethal missiles following a £550m deal.

SPEAR3 will become the principal strike weapon of the F-35 Lightning jets operating from the decks of HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales.

Designed to knock out warships, tanks and armoured vehicles, missile launchers, bunkers, radar posts and air defence batteries, the new missile can be fired at such long range – more than 140 kilometres (nearly 90 miles) – it should keep the Navy and RAF pilots out of harm’s way from enemy ground defences.

Defence firm MBDA has been awarded £550m to equip the Lightning Force – based at RAF Marham – with the new weapon, which has been developed over the past decade and will be introduced to the front line over the next seven years.

Weighing under 90kg and just 1.8 metres long, SPEAR3 – Select Precision Effects At Range missile No.3 – is powered at high subsonic speeds by a turbojet engine, can operate across land and sea, day or night, and strike at moving and stationary targets.

It will support 700 jobs in the UK – 190 of them highly-skilled technology jobs in system design, guidance control and navigation and software engineering – at sites around the country including Bristol, Stevenage and Bolton.

Testing, simulation and trials will include controlled firings from a Typhoon aircraft before the missile is delivered to Marham and the Portsmouth-based carriers for front-line operations.