The Meteor is an active radar guided beyond visual range (BVR) air to air missile produced by MBDA. It has entered service with the Swedish Air Force as of April 2016 on the JAS 39 Gripen. The notable feature of the Meteor is it’s ramjet technology, which enables the missile’s rocket motor to be throttle controlled, which combined with the missile’s advanced guidance make it extremely responsive to it’s target’s evasive maneuvers.
The Meteor was developed in response to several European nations’ need to begin considering the next generation of air to air missiles, with the ability to not only engage conventional manned airborne threats, but also unmanned vehicles and cruise missiles. The missile will be utilized by the air forces of the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden. The Meteor will eventually by equipped by the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Dassault Rafale, the Saab Gripen, and eventually Britain’s F35 Joint Strike Fighters with the introduction of its Block 4 software.
The Meteor is being manufactured at MBDA’s facility in Lostock, Scotland.
The propulsion system, a ramjet, utilizes solid fuel with a variable ducted flow. The “no escape zone” is reportedly larger than any other air to air missile in production due to the missile’s ability to engage “maximum thrust” when in final pursuit of the target. The weapon’s electronics and propulsion control unit (ECPU) adjusts the cruise speed depending on launch conditions and the target’s altitude by controlling the ramjet’s intake ducts. The unit monitors the remaining fuel, maintaining ‘cruise’ mode whilst avoiding “full throttle” until the final stage of closing in. The ‘no escape zone’ is a cone shaped area calculated by the guidance software wherein the target will be unable to evade using it’s own maneuverability. As soon as the target is within the ’no escape zone’ the missile will usually accelerate to full throttle.
Externally, the Meteor has two square intake sections affixed to the aft of the length of the missile. The Meteor only has four rear fins for maneuverability but they enable it to perform bank to turn maneuvers.
In addition to it’s active radar guidance seeker, which is shared with the MICA and ASTER series of missiles, the Meteor possesses two-way data link capabilities that allow it to continue communication with the targeting systems on the airframe it was fired from which itself may be receiving linked targeting information from other sources. This allows the weapon to more reliably pursue targets through cluttered countermeasure environment and report back it’s functional status. The guidance section also has its own IMS or inertial measurement system, enabling the missile to ‘dead reckon’ it’s location in the battle space relative to where it was launched from in it’s terminal phase.
The high explosive blast fragmentation warhead utilizes both impact and RF proximity fuzes which detonate to inflict ‘maximum lethality.’ It is capable of rail or ejection launching.
The maximum range of the missile is classified, but a report noted during a head on engagement test mentioned a distance “well in excess of 100 kilometers.”
The Meteor features an active radar guided seeker head which is capable of engaging in all weather.
Sweden (1997) Multirole Fighter Plane – 247 Built
A light single-engine multirole fighter, with a delta mid-wing and canard configuration. This aircraft has a fly-by-wire flight controls. Purposed with replacing the Saab 35 Draken and Saab J 37 Viggen AJ, SH, SF and JA versions in service with the Flygvapnet (the Swedish Air Force), and in service since 1995. Its development began in the late 70’s, with the aircraft intended to perform the same missions of the models it was replacing. As a result, the Gripen is capable of executing missions as fighter, attacker, and reconnaissance, being also a cheap yet well-powered and highly manoeuvrable jet, capable of integrating well with the Flygvapnet communication and infrastructure systems. It is also a platform with good upgrading capacities. Another special feature of this model is the short take-off and landing (STOL), alongside its agility and responsiveness at subsonic speeds, low induced drag and good supersonic performance. A product of Swedish innovation and defence needs, allowing Sweden to maintain its neutrality during the Cold War, the aircraft’s STOL characteristic came as a result of the policy of using highways and roads as airstrips, in order to reduce the potential damage to Flygvapnet air assets in case of attack, and to maintain air defence capacity. It was also intended to be an easy maintenance airplane, with conscripts having basic technical knowledge being able to do maintenance works. This increases the aircraft’s service life.
The Gripen is designed as a mid-delta wing fighter, with a single tail and a single Volvo Flygmotor RM 12 engine. It has canard winglets that also serve as complement for the two aerodynamic brakes located at the sides of the rear fuselage. The combination of the canards and the delta wing design allows the Gripen to fly at 70-80 degrees of attack angle, allowing also STOL capabilities (800 mts/2600 ft airstrip). Its purposed aerodynamic instability is compensated with a fly-by-wire technology that bestows the Gripen with considerable fly characteristics. The engine also plays its part in shaping the Gripen characteristics, along with some additional features. The double digital control and double ignition allows the pilot and the aircraft to be safe in case of emergency. The engine itself is reinforced to withstand the impact of birds or foreign objects. The radar – an Ericsson pulse-Doppler – allows the Gripen to have powerful and sharp ‘eyes’, as it allows multiple target track and beyond visual range (BVR) for air-to-air; mapping ground and surface target indication and tracking for air-to-ground; and sea surface search and tracking.
The Digital Era
The JAS 39 has a Tactical Information Data Link System (TIDLS) digital network which provides the Gripen with a tactical advantage: to distribute and share radar and sensors information with up to 4 aircraft within a radio of 480 kms (300 miles), enabling tactical combat information and situation awareness. It also provides any pilot information about the position, speed, missile load, heading and fuel state of other Gripens. This provides also concealment to any pilot opening fire against a selected target, without revealing its position, while the launched missile – a medium-range air-to-air-missile (AMRAAM) – will be guided not only by the aircraft it was fired from, but also by the other aircraft, whose guidance can improve the missile’s accuracy. TIDLS technology however, is not a product enjoyed only by the Gripen’s development, but it is an enhanced version, as the JAS 35 Draken and JAS 37 Viggen had a similar and early datalink systems. As it is a multirole aircraft, this means it can change its mission while flying, as the pilot change the avionics and sensors in flight. Although the small size of the plane limits these capacities and payload, forcing missions to be considered before sorties, it also allows the aircraft to reduce detection by radar.
The Gripen goes to Battle
The high adaptability and capacity of the aircraft to be easily upgraded allowed the Gripen to be modified in order to fit NATO standards, and to increase its export options. Alongside the British BAE, Saab improved and modified the Gripen so to be able to operate with NATO missiles, opening the open for the aircraft to carry more powerful missiles, and having also enhanced air-to-ground capabilities. Those modifications allowed the Gripen to support NATO intervention in Libya (Operation Unified Protector) with tactical air reconnaissance, enforcement of the no-fly zone, the arms embargo, and support for civilian protection. It was also able to receive updates and information from NATO E-3 AWACS airplanes. The Gripen performance was optimal during the operation, as it flew 570 missions, around 1770 flight hours, and delivered 2770 reports.
A Coveted Fighter
Given its characteristics and its good relation cost/operation, the Saab JAS 39 Gripen has received the attention of many countries that expressed their interest in the fighter. Countries like Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Bulgaria, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Namibia, Peru, The Philippines, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Uruguay, and Vietnam, all could become potential operators of the Gripen.
JAS 39A – The basic and first version entering in service with the Flygvapnet, later upgraded to the C version.
JAS 39B – The two-seated variant of the JAS39A, purposed for training, specialised missions and flight conversion, with the cannon and the internal fuel tank removed to allow the second crew member and life support systems.
JAS 39C – A NATO-compatible version with overall enhanced capabilities, as well as in-flight refuel.
JAS 39D – The two-seat version of the JAS 39C.
JAS NG – An improved version of the Gripen, having a new engine (The General Electric F414-400), a new radar (RAVEN ES-05 AESA), and increased payload and fuel capacity. Its development was undertaken through a partnership with Switzerland. A product of the changes brought by the end of the Cold War, as airbases were closed with fighter units being reduced, as well as the closure of the road base system for take offs and landings. But it is also a product of the new assessed threat Sweden could be facing, which required a new fighter with extended range, increased weapons, enhanced electronics, fighter communications (with satellite) and Electronic Warfare (EW) capability.
JAS 39E– Single seat version derived from the JAS NG.
JAS 39F – Two-seat version derived from the JAS 39E.
Sea Gripen – Proposed carrier version of the NG.
Gripen UCAV – Proposed unmanned combat version of the JAS 39E.
Gripen EW – Proposed electronic warfare version derived from the JAS 39F.
Brazil – 28 Gripen JAS 39E and 8 Gripen JAS 39F on order, with options of assembling some locally, while the Brazilian Navy is interested in the Sea Gripen for use on its single aircraft carrier. Brazil could export Gripen into the regional market. There is a provision for joint development with Sweden.
Czech Republic – 14 Gripens on lease (12 JAS 39C and two JAS 39D) until 2027 and to replace the existing Mig 21 fleet. given the current tensions between the West and Russia, Czech Republic government considered leasing 6 more Gripens. Gripen have had a good use by the Czech Air Force, with membership of the NATO Tiger Association, awarding the Tiger Meet Silver Tiger Award as ‘Best Squadron’. Gripen from Czech Republic also take part in NATO Baltic Air Policing, while performing homeland defence duties at the same time.
Hungary – 12 Gripens on a lease-and-buy basis (11 JAS 39 C and one JAS 39D) until 2022. Two Gripens lost in crashes. Hungarian Gripens have been taking part of NATO Baltic Air Policing since 2015.
South Africa – 26 Gripens are in service with the South African Air Force (17 JAS 39C and 9 JAS 39D), facing restricted operation given lack of qualified pilots and financial resources. However, South African Gripens enjoyed a local EW development – in cooperation with Israel – and datalink, as well as radar weather mode. The Gripens saw action when securing South African airspace during the FIFA 2010 World Cup, supporting South African troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2013, and taking part in Nelson’s Mandela funeral.
Sweden – The Flygvapnet has 156 Gripen, 50 of which are JAS 39A, 13 are JAS 39B, 60 are JAS 39C and 11 are JAS 39D. Two (a JAS 39C and a JAS 39D) were lost in accidents.
Thailand – 12 Gripens (8 JAS 39C and 4 JAS 39D) serve with the Thai Air Force, where eventually 6 more Gripen would be bought. As these Gripen operate over the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand, they have anti-ship capacities.
United Kingdom – Operated by the Empire Test Pilots’ School, with 3 JAS 39B, with training and testing purposes.
8.4 m / 27 ft 7 in
14.10 m / 46 ft 3 in
4.7 m / 14 ft 9 in
30 m² / 323 ft²
1 Volvo Flygmotor turbofan RM12
Maximum Take-Off Weight
14000 Kg / 30,900 lb
6800 kg / 15,000 lb
8500 kg / 18,700 lb
2450 km/h / 1522 mph
3250 KM / 1,983 miles (with external drop fuel tanks)
Maximum Service Ceiling
16000 m /52,500 ft
100 s from brake release to 10 km altitude / 180 s approx to 14 km