The European Meteor lengthy vary air to air missile was for years anticipated as a sport altering platform which might belatedly bridge the hole with the newest international designs for the continent’s three courses of fighter: the Swedish Gripen, French Rafale and British, German and Italian collectively developed Eurofighter. Starting with the introduction of the American AIM-120C and Chinese language PL-12 lively radar guided air to air missiles within the early 2000s, European missile designs more and more appeared outmatched. Lively radar steerage was hardly a brand new know-how, first launched in 1974 on the AIM-54 missile produced for the U.S. Navy’s very massive F-14 fighters which had an amazing 195km vary, however the AIM-120C and PL-12 noticed such steerage techniques paired with a spread of over 100km and a dimension appropriate for fighter-sized plane. The discrepancy solely grew wider because the U.S. and China started to introduce the AIM-120D and PL-15 from round 2014, which had ranges of 160-180km and 200-300km respectively whereas the highest European air to air missile, the MICA used solely by French jets, had solely an 80km vary. Till the event of the Meteor the MICA had left French fighters overwhelmingly outmatched, whereas the Gripen and Eurofighter had been pressured to depend on the American AIM-120C to supply a viable past visible vary air to air functionality. 

Like many European navy aviation packages, the Meteor confronted a really protracted growth of round 20 years. The missile started growth shortly after the primary variants of the American AIM-120 entered service within the Nineties, and at a time when the Russian Air Pressure was fielding the 130km vary semi lively radar R-27ER/ET missiles on its new fighters which had been set to be supplemented by the lively radar guided R-77 earlier than financial disaster ended such plans. The Meteor’s objective was reported to outperform the AIM-120, and Britain, Germany, Sweden, France, Italy and Spain all participated in its growth with some reviews indicating that American know-how transfers additionally performed an necessary function. The missile gained an preliminary working functionality in 2016 however has entered into service solely slowly since. The Meteor has a lot of distinctive options which make it extremely succesful for past visible vary engagements. The missile dropped at the sector a superior vary and total kinematic efficiency than the American AIM-120, though having entered service 25 years later this had lengthy been anticipated regardless of the U.S.’ vital technological lead within the discipline. Its main benefit is its propulsion system, which extra carefully resembles that of a cruise missile than conventional air to air missies because of its reliance on a variable circulation ducted rocket (ramjet) rather than a rocket motor. This permits the missile to throttle its engine in flight, fairly than expending its power in a single unmodulated burn cycle. It could actually thus preserve extra power for its terminal assault section to carry out excessive manoeuvres and climb quick, which makes the Meteor significantly harder to evade than the AIM-120 and considerably will increase the dimensions of its ‘no escape zone.’

The Meteor’s capacity to modulate its thrust permits the missile’s autopilot to make use of essentially the most environment friendly flight path to the goal, conserving gas for a a lot higher vary. As well as, to compensate for the missile’s comparatively small X-band radar, the Meteor will be capable to obtain mid-course steerage updates from each the fighter that fired it and from different plane similar to airborne early warning and management (AEW&C) plane, destroyers at sea and different fighter items. This improved community centric warfare functionality, though removed from distinctive to the Meteor, improves its precision significantly. The missile’s information hyperlink additionally permits fighters to re-target it throughout flight, and to see how a lot gas stays to find out which targets are nonetheless viable. Whereas the European Gripen, Rafale and to a lesser extent the Eurofighter, are removed from excellent by way of flight efficiency, with the Rafale’s engine being the weakest in manufacturing for any fighter on the planet and the Gripen’s total thrust being among the many poorest, the sophistication of the Meteor has the potential to partially compensate for these deficiencies. European air forces have neverthless been sluggish to undertake the brand new missiles partially because of their excessive price, which makes extensively equipping the Meteor removed from viable in distinction to the comparatively low-cost AIM-120. 

Enhancements to international missile designs, and the a lot shorter growth cycles of non-European missile packages, signifies that the Meteor’s present sturdy place will not be anticipated to final. Its Chinese language rival the PL-15, though starting growth a lot later than the Meteor, is taken into account equally succesful if not superior, whereas the American AIM-260 is predicted to have a cushty benefit and doubtlessly use the identical form of ramjet propulsion system. Economies of scale and better buying energy in China and the U.S. means their future missile designs will doubtless not solely be extra superior but additionally less expensive. Though lagging behind because of an absence of funds, Russia started to equip its fighters with the R-37M missile from across the time the Meteor entered service. The missile boasts a 400km vary and Mach 6 velocity and 60kg warhead, comfortably outperforming the European missile, though its is significantly heavier that means it can’t be carried in the identical numbers. Russia’s lighter Okay-77M, which just like the PL-15 will use an AESA radar for steerage and advantages from a 200km vary and a formidable APAA steerage for higher reliability, is predicted to turn out to be absolutely operational earlier than 2024 and represents one other peer degree competitor with doubtlessly vital benefits over the Meteor, though like European states with the Meteor Russia is unlikely to have the ability to afford widespread deployment of the brand new design. 

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