Air Weapons: Buying The Meteor Of Tomorrow Today


January 12, 2011:  France has ordered 200 Meteor high speed (ramjet), long-range air-to-air missiles for its Air Force and Navy Rafale fighters. The missiles will not arrive for seven years, because development is not complete. It was only five years ago that the Meteor missile passed, on its second try, a flight test. Meteor is a long range (over 100 kilometers) radar guided missile being developed by a European consortium (Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Sweden). It's the first such missile to use ramjet technology. This enables the missile to basically fly at the same speed as a rifle bullet (about one kilometer a second, or about Mach 4). Ramjet technology is tricky to handle, which is why no one else has gotten it to work for an air-to-air missile (although the Russians and Chinese are interested). Meteor has been in development for over a decade.

The Meteor is too large (at 3.65 meters/12 feet long and 185 kg/407 pounds) for the internal bay of the F-22, but the F-35 can handle it, as can other U.S. aircraft that carry missiles externally. Several European nations are buying the F-35. Even the U.S. may end up getting Meteor, rather than spending billions to develop an American ramjet missile. The speed advantage of Meteor is considerable, as it makes it more difficult to evade (assuming the target knows it is coming). The range of Meteor is about 50 percent greater than the current top-of-the-line air-to-air missile (the U.S. AMRAAM, at 80 kilometers). American firms are supplying some of the components, and U.S. participation may increase before Meteor enters service.



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