FARNBOROUGH, England — Raytheon Missiles Systems boss Taylor Lawrence believes there could still be a role for the company’s Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB II) in the British Royal Air Force's (RAF) inventory despite the UK Ministry of Defence selecting MBDA’s Spear strike missile to equip its upcoming F-35B fleet.
“I think there is an opportunity given where we are with the maturity of SDB II and the successful flight test and integration on the F-35. My sense is there will be opportunity to see the weapon as part of the inventory in the UK,” Lawrence told Defense News in an interview at the Farnborough International Airshow.
The SDB II, purchased by the US Navy and the US Marine Corps principally for the F-35, is already in low-rate initial production and on its way to finishing development.
Lawrence’s remarks came just hours after MBDA lifted the lid on the progress it is making developing the Spear missile scheduled to equip RAF and Royal Navy F-35s early in the next decade.
The turbojet-powered, dual-mode MBDA weapon has a range in excess of 100 kilometers to give British pilots as much standoff distance from the target as possible.
That compares with around 64 kilometers for the unpowered SDB II glide bomb.
Lawrence said he is not hearing anything from his customer about extended range requirements.
Raytheon failed to convince the British to hold a competition for a weapon to meet their Spear 3 (Selective Precision Effects At Range) program requirement earlier this year and instead saw MBDA handed a single-source deal to develop the mini-cruise weapon with a £411 million (US $544 million) development contract.
Mark Slater, the future systems director at MBDA, told reporters at a briefing that the company had successfully completed the first air launch of the weapon from a Typhoon test aircraft in March at a range in Wales.
The UK arm of MBDA is tasked with delivering a weapon ready for integration on the F-35 in 2020. There is also an option to equip RAF Typhoon fighters with the missile as part of a future enhancement of the jet.
“We were disappointed in them going single source but it may take them longer than they think [to develop], and we are ready to go. I still think there might be an opportunity as soon as F-35s start to appear in the UK,” Lawrence said. “They are going to spend a lot of money on a weapon to provide a niche capability. They may need that capability, but it might end [up] being very expensive, so they may need something like SDB II, which is not nearly so expensive, to do 90 percent of the mission."
Not surprisingly, Slater has a different take and sees the fact Spear has been designed for a specific British F-35 requirement as a strength in this instance, particularly in the export market.
“I think we are in a good space. Sometimes, historically, its not been a good thing to have to meet a UK requirement, but in this case it’s been a great thing to do,” he said.
“Most nations can’t afford to have seven or eight platforms with a myriad of different weapons to engage a myriad of different target sets, so I think we are in a great space with a single weapon that can engage a broad set of targets and has been specifically designed for F-35,” Slater added.
The weapon is being designed to provide long-range precision targeting against mobile, fleeting and relocatable targets such as armored vehicles, air defense systems and soft-skinned vehicles. It also has a maritime capability.