The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has awarded a £411m contract to MBDA to develop a new missile for the country's future F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter.
The latest contract follows an initial £150m assessment phase. Under the contract, which includes four years of critical design and development work, MBDA will work on the selective precision effects of the range (Spear) 3 missile system.
The Spear 3 next-generation air launched surface attack weapon will be fitted into the F-35B supersonic stealth aircraft's internal weapons bay.
UK Defence Minister Philip Dunne said: "This contract will give UK pilots a state-of-the-art British designed weapon to be used on-board our next-generation F-35B jets, with the precision and punch that we need to give decisive operational advantage over our adversaries and keep Britain safe.
"This investment is good news not only for our pilots, but also for UK industry, safeguarding 350 highly skilled missile engineering jobs across MBDA's sites in Stevenage, Bristol and Lostock, and an equivalent number of jobs in the wider supply chain.
"It has been made possible by this government's £178bn commitment to the very best equipment for our armed forces and by our growing defence budget."
Featuring an innovative turbojet engine, Spear 3 will be designed specifically for F-35 operations that will be launched from the UK Royal Navy's two £3bn aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.
Work on the missile system will be carried out across MBDA's sites in Stevenage, Bristol and Lostock. The contract is expected to generate 350 missile engineering jobs.
To be developed based on the combat-proven Dual Mode Brimstone missile, the Spear 3 missile system has a range of more than 60 miles and was successfully test fired from an MoD Typhoon in March this year.
Spear 3 is expected to enter service in the mid-2020s.
Image: MBDA to design and develop Spear 3 missile system for the UK Royal Navy's future F-35B aircraft. Photo: courtesy of Crown copyright.