Throwing SPEARS

The SPEAR-3 could form the basis for a new jamming and decoy capability using the missile’s airframe. This could be employed to help protect RAF Typhoon-F/GR4 and F-35B aircraft.

Dr. Thomas Withington – MBDA and Leonardo are moving forward with the development of an Electronic Warfare (EW) variant of MBDA’s Select Precision Effects At Range Capability-3 (SPEAR’3) air-to-surface missile.

The SPEAR-EW initiative was announced this April and could develop an air-launched loitering EW system which could be deployed by the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon F/GR4A or Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning combat aircraft. Reports note that the SPEAR-EW’s design sees the removal of the SPEAR-3’s warhead which would be swapped for an EW payload developed by Leonardo. Details on the wavebands which could be detected and jammed by the SPEAR-EW have not been revealed. That said it is possible that these could encompass a 8.5 gigahertz/GHz to 40GHz waveband. This would allow it to jam X-band (8.5GHz to 10.68GHz), Ku-band (13.4-14/15.7-17.7GHz), K-band (24.05 to 24.25GHz) and Ka-band (33.4GHz to 36GHz) ground-based/naval surveillance and fire control radars, plus missile radar seekers.

The SPEAR-EW has been conceived as an escort jammer being launched to protect a strike package of aircraft in the detection range of such radars. In terms of concept of operations Typhoon F/GR4As and F-35Bs could use their respective organic Leonardo Praetorian DASS (Defensive Aids Subsystem) and BAE Systems AN/ASQ-239 integrated self-protection system during the ingress and egress to and from their targets. These systems could detect and jam radars operating in lower bandwidths of circa two gigahertz to 5.925GHz. The SPEAR-EW could then be launched to provide additional protection while the aircraft are performing their attacks.

It is likely that the SPEAR-EW’s will include digital radio frequency memory techniques. These will allow the digital generation of discreet jamming waveforms manipulating a radar’s original transmissions to outflank contemporary and future radar electronic counter-counter measures. Funding for the SPEAR-EW’s development has been forthcoming from MBDA and Leonardo, alongside the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL). The latter had developed the SPEAR-EW’s baseline payload via its Stand-In Jammer Capability Concept Demonstrator initiative. Current development efforts are said to be focusing on extending the loiter time and range of the SPEAR-EW, alongside the further refinement of its EW payload. The SPEAR-3 reportedly has a range of up to 75.6 nautical miles (140km), and it is possible that the SPEAR-EW has a comparable reach. Nevertheless, one Leonardo source disclosed that the removal of the SPEAR-3’s warhead could allow the airframe to carry additional fuel which could thus extend the range and loiter time. The source continued that the SPEAR-EW would not only be capable of jamming threats, but of also acting as a decoy. “This concept is designed to counter the expected anti-access, area-denial scenarios of the future. SPEAR-EW will enhance both platform and weapon survivability through the use of stand-in jamming,” an MBDA spokesperson told Armada. This could provide an additionally useful SEAD component. By acting thus the SPEAR-EW could present a lucrative target to Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) batteries. SAM batteries deciding to fire on the decoy would risk revealing their position and hence placing themselves at risk from attack with kinetic ordnance. Moreover, reports have stated that the SPEAR-EW’s payload could jam multiple threats simultaneously. The upshot of this could be that the SPEAR-EW, in combination with other EW systems organic to the combat aircraft, may provide a cordon sanitaire around a strike package of aircraft over a large area.

“We are in the advanced stages of development of an EW variant of the SPEAR family of weapons,” the MBDA spokesperson continued: “The SPEAR family leverages heavily on the high levels of maturity of both the main SPEAR programme and of mature Leonardo EW technology in the UK. This provides a springboard for the rapid completion of the SPEAR-EW concept, alongside the main programme.” The UK Ministry of Defence has yet to issue a formal requirement for the SPEAR-EW’s procurement to outfit RAF aircraft. Should such a requirement be forthcoming, it is possible that production and deliveries of the SPEAR-EW could commence in the next five years.

by Dr. Thomas Withington