Helping it evolve is a new weapon that will be integrated on the near horizon — SPEAR3 which stands for Selected Precision at Range, type 3. Hailed as a breakthrough capability, SPEAR3 is a mini air-to-surface cruise missile that promises to bring new power and flexibility to Eurofighter both in terms of individual capability and force mass.
“With SPEAR3 each Eurofighter Typhoon will be capable of carrying up to 12 mini cruise missiles, compared to two standard cruise missiles currently, as well as a full air-to-air weapons suite, bringing revolutionary capability for the platform. Crucially, that extra capacity will give Eurofighter the ability to overwhelm enemy air defence capabilities and the flexibility to engage multiple targets per sortie,” says Paul Mead, Director of Business Development at MBDA.
“The Royal Air Force sees the need to engage enemy air defences as a primary role. One way to do that is to saturate and overwhelm them, ideally from standoff ranges. That means you’ve got to be able to have a high load out, to have time on target, and you need a warhead capability that’s able to make variable effects on whatever target you’re going after. And that’s what SPEAR3 brings.
“But recent conflicts have also demonstrated the need for precision-strike weapons that can operate in all conditions, against severe countermeasures, and attack moving and manoeuvring targets in all weathers.
“So the RAF is looking for a flexible solution — one that’s able to adapt to a complex environment, but also one where they can control through the data linking, and the ability to have third party control of the weapon as well. SPEAR3 ticks all the boxes.
“There is nothing else like this in the world. It’s a unique capability and one that sits alongside (the air-to-air-missile) Meteor in terms of the unique differentiators for Eurofighter as a platform.”
The integration process is moving at pace. SPEAR3 underwent its first test firing from a Eurofighter at Aberporth in Wales in March 2016 and was placed on contract later the same year. The development phase is due to be completed in early 2020, with an in-service date anticipated in the early 2020s.
Powered by a turbojet engine, SPEAR3 has the beyond-horizon reach — something in the order of about 140 kilometres — to ensure that the aircraft remains safely away from hostile air defence units. Impressive stand-off capability is one key feature, but SPEAR3 is also equipped with the latest generation multi-mode sensor seeker, providing increased flexibility in the kind of complex scenarios commonly envisaged in the future battlespace. It’s designed to be effective against air defence units, ballistic missile launchers, hardened structures, fast-moving and manoeuvring vehicles, main battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers and naval vessels.
State-of-the-art data imaging software ensures high precision and high collateral management.
“It gives us the ability to look at and match images so that we know exactly what we’re going after.”
SPEAR3 features a two-way data link which allows in-flight updates, retargeting and abort functions and, because it’s network enabled, it can be controlled and take targeting data coming from third party assets.
“Another key feature is low altitude launch — you can keep the platform both at range and also at low level and, through the weapon’s turbo jet, launch off low and then climb to altitude.”
The Royal Air Force confirmed the integration of SPEAR3 to Eurofighter at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) this year and it’s set to be a key weapon for years to come. It forms part of a dynamic weapons set for the UK RAF. SPEAR 1 is Paveway, SPEAR 2 is Brimstone, SPEAR 4 Storm Shadow and SPEAR5 is another for the future — a cruise and anti-ship weapon.
SPEAR3 was also revealed as a fundamental component of Team Tempest at Farnborough, so it’s a capability that’s being looked at for a future combat air system. “It’s a future-looking weapon,” says Paul. “We’ve got the ability to upgrade it over time to put in different modes, different variants and to make it a weapon with longevity.”