Rain stops play for Matra missile

The Ministry of Defence has refused to accept the first tranche of a new air-to-air missile built by Matra BAe Dynamics for the RAF, because it does not work properly in bad weather.

The Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile, Asraam, was to enter service this month with the Tornado and Harrier aircraft. Under a contract worth £823m the missile was also destined to equip the Eurofighter Typhoon.

But in a statement issued by the MoD last week, defence procurement minister Baroness Symons said the contract was running two years late and the Asraam ‘had not yet delivered the performance level set when the missile was ordered.’

A defence industry source told The Engineer that part of the problem was that the missile’s’ infra-red seeker had difficulties penetrating cloud and other bad weather.

MBD, a joint venture between BAE Systems and the European aerospace and defence company Eads, has already spent £479m on the project which employs a total of 4,000 people.

Asraam was originally due in service by December 1998. This was put back to December 2000, according to last year’s National Audit Office report on defence contracts.

In refusing to accept the first batch of missiles which is to be fitted to the RAF’s Tornado F3 and Harrier GR9 fighter, and the Royal Navy’s Sea Harrier FA2, Symons said the MoD would only take delivery of the Asraam once its performance has been improved.

The company has already been working on improving the missile’s performance, it was revealed in November. Symons said it was hoped the missile would bring the UK considerable exports.

‘Asraam inevitably carries risk, and delivering the high standard of capability we need is a tough challenge for MBD. Our new Smart Acquisition policy means tackling problems like this head-on, and working closely with companies to resolve them,’ said Symons.

Delays over the Asraam contract look certain to spark renewed attempts at a ‘get tough’ policy over weapons procurement by the MoD. This will put further pressure on MBD, which is expecting to sign another missile contract in the summer, this time for Meteor.

Symons said that the Meteor contract will include a series of ‘key technological milestones which must be met, ensuring that any performance shortfalls are identified and tackled during the development programme.’

Until Asraam is accepted into service, the Tornado F3 will be fitted with Sidewinder missiles. The Harrier GR9 and the Sea Harrier FA2 will also continue to carry Sidewinders. ‘This delay will have no impact on Eurofighter’s operational capability,’ said Symons.

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