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Home / International Defence Security and Technology / Military / Air / The new fifth generation air-to-air missiles AAMs are being fielded with large ‘no-escape zone’ and with AESA Radar, EO/IR Imaging, Network centric data links

The new fifth generation air-to-air missiles AAMs are being fielded with large ‘no-escape zone’ and with AESA Radar, EO/IR Imaging, Network centric data links

A Eurofighter Typhoon has successfully completed a simultaneous firing of two MBDA Meteor Beyond Visual Range air-to-air missiles as part of a major programme of work to integrate the weapon on to the aircraft. The trial was used to test successful engagement of targets and the simultaneous two-way data link between two missiles and the aircraft.  The data gathered follows a series of six successful Meteor firings conducted from EurofighterTyphoon in 2016.

The probability of Aerial dogfights are becoming less in modern times, as US pilots have  used  AIM-120 missiles only dozens of times, in contrast, the US Air Force used more than 3,500 weapons against ground targets in Afghanistan during the opening nine months of 2011 alone.

However the threat of it has not entirely disappeared, therefore the air-to-air missiles (AAMs) remain an essential combat element for fifth-generation jet fighters.

The new fifth generation AAMs are being fielded have many advancements they will significantly expand the ‘no-escape zone’ and increase the range over which air-to-air engagements in future can be fought, enabling pilots to exploit the capabilities of their new aircraft to the full. (The conditions under which a missile cannot be evaded through any combination of maneuvers or acceleration is termed a missile’s no escape zone.)

They have many improvements in seeker technology, like active electronically scanned (AESA) radar, high resolution electro-optical imaging technologies with advanced digital processing that allows enhanced ability to distinguish friends from foe, distinguish countermeasures like flares from targets and choose specific vulnerable points to target.

Their data links also allow them to be integrated into highly integrated combat networks for network centric warfare.

However BVR missiles are much more complex and expensive than “simple” IR-guided “dogfighters” and they need much more complex, larger and expensive platforms to carry them.

China’s military testing very long range air-to-air missile (400 kms)

In November 2016, a Chinese J-16 strike fighter test-fired a gigantic hypersonic missile, successfully destroying the target drone at a very long range.

Reports estimate the missile at about 19 feet, and roughly 13 inches in diameter. The missile appears to have four tailfins. Reports are that the size would put into the category of a very long range air to air missile (VLRAAM) with ranges exceeding 300 km (roughly 186 miles), likely max out between 250 and 310 miles. (As a point of comparison, the smaller 13.8-foot, 15-inch-diameter Russian R-37 missile has a 249-mile range). Chinese fighter jets currently use the PL-11 and PL-12 missiles to attack long-distance targets, but their maximum ranges are shorter than 100 kilometers.

This is a big deal: this missile would easily outrange any American (or other NATO) air-to-air missile. Additionally, the VLRAAM’s powerful rocket engine will push it to Mach 6 speeds, which will increase the no escape zone (NEZ) that is the area where a target cannot outrun the missile, against even supersonic targets like stealth fighters.

Fu Qianshao, an equipment researcher with the PLA Air Force, said that he believes China has developed a new missile that can hit high-value targets such as early-warning planes and aerial refueling aircraft, which stay far from conflict zones. Most air-to-air missiles in service around the world have a maximum range of around 100 km, while a handful of new types propelled by ramjets can reach 200 km, he said. However, all of them are unsuitable for combating early-warning planes because of their short ranges.

Moreover, he added, long-range ground-to-air missiles are restricted by their fixed deployment when dealing with planes far away. “The best solution to this problem I can figure out is to send a super-maneuverable fighter jet with very-long-range missiles to destroy those high-value targets, which are ‘eyes’ of enemy jets,” Fu said.

“So the successful development of this potential new missile would be a major breakthrough in the Air Force’s weapons upgrade,” the paper quoted Fu as saying. He said the missile could have a maximum range of 400 km, farther than any air-to-air missiles used by Western air forces.

Another key feature: its large active electronically scanned (AESA) radar, which is used in the terminal phase of flight to lock onto the target. The AESA radar’s large size—about 300-400% larger than that of most long range air-to-air missiles—and digital adaptability makes it highly effective against distant and stealthy targets, and resilient against electronic countermeasures like jamming and spoofing.

The VLRAAM’s backup sensor is a infrared/electro-optical seeker that can identify and hone in on high-value targets like aerial tankers and airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) radar aircraft. The VLRAAM also uses lateral thrusters built into the rear for improving its terminal phase maneuverability when engaging agile targets like fighters.

Another researched VLRAAM function is datalinking; the papers called for the VLRAAM to be embedded within a highly integrated combat networks. It is envisioned as just part of a larger wave of networked solutions aggregated through multiple Chinese systems. For example, a J-20 stealth fighter wouldn’t mount the missile (the VLRAAM is too large to fit in the J-20’s weapons bay), but could use its low observable features to fly relatively close in order to detect enemy assets like AEW&C aircraft (which are vital to gather battlespace data for manned and unmanned assets, but subsonic in speed and less able to evade missiles). Then before breaking off contact, the J-20 would signal a J-16 400 km (249 miles) away (outside the range of most air to air missiles) providing it the data needed to launch the VLRAAM at the target. This would offer China a longer range version of present U.S. tactics that involve using the fifth generation F-22 as a sensor for 4th generation fighters as the “shooters.”


MBDA’s Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile

Meteor is a next generation, active radar-guided, beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) system. The missile is being developed by MBDA Systems for six European nations. The Meteor BVRAAM can be integrated on Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Gripen and Dassault Rafale aircraft. The Meteor missile can also be installed on Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

Meteor is a fast and agile missile, with what is claimed to be the largest ‘no-escape zone’ of any air-to-air weapon. Equipped with both proximity and impact fuses, it can engage targets ranging from fast-jets to UAVs or cruise missiles, autonomously in all weathers, during day or night, in full electronic countermeasure environments. It also highlights two other key developments in AAM design – improved kinematic performance and a high degree of network-centric readiness.

The Meteor is equipped with a two way datalink, which allows the launch platform to provide updates on targets or re-targeting when the missile is in flight. The datalink is capable of transmitting information such as kinematic status. It also notifies target acquisition by the seeker. They can even be re-targeted by a remotely-located third party enhancing their effectiveness in increasingly networked warfare.

The Meteor is installed with an active radar target seeker, offering high reliability in detection, tracking and classification of targets. The missile also integrates inertial measurement system (IMS) supplied by Litef. The missile has a range in excess of 100km. It is designed for a speed greater than Mach 4. The missile has a large no escape zone.

Equipped with enhanced kinematics features, Meteor can be launched as a stealth missile. It is capable of striking different types of targets simultaneously in almost any weather. The Meteor has a length of 3.65m and diameter of 0.178m. It is designed to be compatible with AIM-120 type rail and eject launcher systems.


Saab to supply fuse subsystems for Meteor BVRAAM

MBDA has contracted Saab to supply radar proximity fuse subsystems (PFS) for the Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM). The Skr150m ($18.42m) contract to supply missile subsystems will be delivered to MBDA between 2020 and 2021.

The PFS has the ability to detect the target and calculate the optimum time to detonate the warhead in order to achieve maximum effect. Saab Dynamics missile systems head Stefan Öberg said: “Meteor is designed to combat advanced air threats and its highly capable fusing system maximises warhead effectiveness and ensure the highest probability of success.

“Throughout, the PFS has proven its ability to meet all the demanding requirements placed on it.” The Meteor is a highly advanced, long-range and agile air-to-air missile system that is designed to counter the most sophisticated airborne threats, Saab stated.


Propulsion system on the Meteor BVRAAM

The Meteor missile is powered by a solid fuel variable flow ducted rocket (ramjet) supplied by Bayern-Chemie. The ramjet provides the Meteor missile with a capability to maintain consistent high speeds. This ability helps the missile to chase and destroy fast moving flexible targets.

According to the manufacturers, Meteor has between three and six times the kinematic performance of current similar types of air-to-air weapons – something made possible by its unique solid fuel, variable-flow, ducted ramjet propulsion system.

Although rocket motors have the edge in terms of overall speed, they experience a characteristic energy drop-off towards the limit of their range. Ramjets, by contrast, maintain their peak energy state for longer, delivering power throughout the flight, providing a high – though slightly slower – average speed and long ranges over a wide operational envelope, from sea level to high altitude.

Unlike traditional rocket motor, Meteor can throttle its engine during different phases of flight especially while approaching its target it can throttle up and able to maneuver and attack even fast maneuvering targets.

Not only does this mean the Meteor will have more energy to maneuver during the endgame of the engagement, but this capability also drastically increases the size of the missile’s “no escape zone.” Basically,

The Meteor includes an electronics and propulsion control unit (EPCU). The EPCU adjusts the rocket’s air intake and duct covers based on the cruise speed and the target’s altitude.

The EPCU observes the distance and fuel level in the rocket and adjusts the throttle of the rocket. This feature of the EPCU helps the missile to manage its fuel system.





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