RAF ASRAAM Integration Advances

Pictured is the first of the UK’s F-35B Lightning II jets to be flown to the UK. There is a Union Flag in the cockpit to mark this historic event. The image shows the aircraft being refueled during its during from the USA to Britain. Accompanied by two United States Marine Corps F-35B aircraft from their training base at Beaufort, South Carolina. The F-35B Lightning II will place the UK at the forefront of fighter technology, giving the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy a true multi-role all weather, day and night capability, able to operate from well-established land bases, deployed locations or the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be known in UK service as the Lightning II. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor but the UK is the only Level 1 partner with the US. A number of British companies, including BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce will have significant industrial work-share in construction and development of the aircraft. The Lightning II will provide UK Defence with a 5th Generation (low observable, supersonic, enhanced data fusion), multi-role, all weather, day and night aircraft that will have the ability to operate from land bases as well as the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers, the first of which is due to accept Lightning II onto her deck in 2018. This basing flexibility will give UK Defence a truly joint expeditionary Combat Air capability well into the 2030’s. The RAF is the lead service for the operation of Lightning II and, like the Harrier before, the Joint Lightning II Force will be manned by both RAF and RN personnel.

A live firing of MBDA’s Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM) from a Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning-II fighter has taken place; marking the first time a non-US made weapon has been dropped from the type.

The infrared-guided ASRAAM is being certified for use on the fighter in line with the UK’s acquisition of the weapon for use on its F-35Bs, and “more than one” firing has taken place to date, Dave Armstrong, managing director of MBDA UK, told media in London on 15th March: “We are pleased to announced that (the) ASRAAM has been fired (from) the F-35 for the first time,” Mr. Armstrong said. “We’ve carried out more than one [firing] and the results so far have been great.”

Testing is being carried out at the US Navy’s Naval Air Station Patuxent River base in Maryland and Edwards airbase in California, and so far, flight trials and air-launched firings have taken place, although Mr. Armstrong noted that only limited information on the trials could be revealed at this point.

MBDA and the UK’s F-35 weapons integration prime contractor BAE Systems delivered the first batch of ASRAAMs to the US to support the testing in January 2016, in preparation for these trials. At the time the companies said that the trials would include environmental data gathering, safe separation demonstrations, weapons integration and the firing trials.

The ASRAAM is in service with the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Panavia Tornado-GR4/A and Eurofighter Typhoon-F/GR4 fighters, and the service is keen to have commonality across its weapons stores.

In August 2016, MBDA was awarded a $227.9 million contract to deliver a new variant of the ASRAAM for use on the F-35B, which included a new seeker developed by MBDA. This added to a September 2015 Capability Sustainment Programme award from the UK Ministry of Defence that contracted the company to develop the advanced version of the weapon for use on the Typhoon-FGR4, which is due to enter service on this aircraft in 201

While the F-35B will also receive the advanced version, the standard version of ASRAAM will be used on the aircraft when it first enters land-based service in December 2018. The enhanced version can then be introduced onto the type in 2022, when software enhancements are made to the aircraft to allow for the integration: ASRAAM integration is one of the milestones that needs to be achieved in order for the F-35 to achieve initial operational capability with the UK, MBDA says.