Air Weapons: Meteor Makes Mach 4


July 15, 2006: The Meteor high speed (ramjet) air-to-air missile passed, on its second try, a flight test. Meteor is a long range (over 100 kilometers) radar guided missile being developed by a European consortium (Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Sweden). It's the first such missile to use ramjet technology. This enables the missile to basically fly at the same speed as a rifle bullet (about one kilometers a second, or about Mach 4). Ramjet technology is tricky to handle, which is why no one else has gotten it to work for an air-to-air missile (although the Russians and Chinese are considering it). Meteor has been in development for six years already, and another six are believed needed before the first production models can be shipped to combat units. The Meteor is too large (at 11.5 feet long and 450 pounds) for the internal bay of the F-22, but the F-35 can handle it, as can other U.S. aircraft that carry missiles externally. Several European nations are buying the F-35. Even the U.S. may end up getting Meteor, rather than spending billions to develop an American ramjet missile.
The speed advantage of Meteor is considerable, as it makes it more difficult to evade (assuming the target knows it is coming). The range of Meteor is about 50 percent greater than the current top-of-the-line air-to-air missile (the U.S. AMRAAM, at 80 kilometers). American firms are supplying some of the components, and U.S. participation in the may increase before Meteror enters service.


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