BAE Systems has announced that it has begun work on the integration of next-generation weapons onto the UK F-35B fighter jets.

The company has started integration of MBDA’s Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile and the Selective Precision Effects At Range (SPEAR) surface attack missile onto the aircraft under a contract with Lockheed Martin, which is the prime contractor on the F-35 programme.

The integration is expected to bolster the capability of UK F-35B fighter jets.

BAE Systems US Programmes senior vice-president Tom Fillingham said: “BAE Systems engineers played a crucial role in supporting the UK to achieve Initial Operating Capability for its F-35 fleet.

“Now, working alongside our partners including Lockheed Martin and MBDA, we are using our expertise to take that capability even further with advanced weapons systems such as Meteor and SPEAR.”

Meteor has been developed under a partnership between six European nations, including the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden, to revolutionise air-to-air combat.

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Designed to defeat present-day and emerging threats, Meteor is guided by an advanced active radar seeker that enables the missile system to engage a wide variety of targets.

The missile features ramjet propulsion system that provides thrust all the way to target intercept.

“This initial package of work officially commences the integration of Meteor and SPEAR and will enhance the operational capability of the UK’s Lightning Force in the future.”

Meanwhile, the SPEAR uses the latest generation precision effects warhead, which gives the user a greater ability to engage mobile, fleeting, and re-locatable targets from a long distance away.

The SPEAR is also fitted with multi-sensors that can be operated in all combat conditions, which help the weapon to engage a wide range of targets on land and at sea.

Additionally, BAE Systems, along with Lockheed Martin, will complete further integration of MBDA’s advanced short-range air-to-air missile (ASRAAM) and Raytheon’s Paveway IV laser-guided bomb.

The work package is being carried out in support of delivering Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for the UK F-35B fighter jets fleet.

MBDA Group Business Development Combat Air head Cliff Waldwyn said: “This initial package of work officially commences the integration of Meteor and SPEAR and will enhance the operational capability of the UK’s Lightning Force in the future; it is also a positive step for the wider F-35 enterprise as it adds additional capability choice for international customers.”

Last year, a pilot belonging to the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) 17 Squadron flew for the first time with UK weapons, including ASRAAM and Paveway IV 17 Squadron is the operational evaluation unit for the F-35B Lightning II.

The test flight came after an integrated test team comprising Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Raytheon and MBDA, cleared weapons for operational testing.

To see MBDAs video of the SPEAR system in action, click here.