MBDA Focuses on Flexibility at Farnborough
By Yvonne Headington
04 Jul 12. With the defence market contracting, MBDA is keen to extend its presence beyond Europe. Fierce global competition “means that we need to project our business further beyond our home markets” said Market Development Director Paul Stanley, during a pre- Farnborough International Air show (FIA 2012) briefing on 26th June. An export drive is “a major theme for most British businesses”.
Exports currently account for around 30% of MBDA’s turnover; in future the Company will be looking to achieve nearer 50%. Therefore the focus is on recognising and accommodating international requirements. “The traditional model of designing products exclusively for our domestic needs is no longer viable – it never really was” said Stanley.
The Company is currently developing the SPEAR network centric, stand-off, air-to-ground missile which will be shown for the first time at FIA 2012. Based on a UK call for a next generation deep target attack weapon, as part of the MoD’s Selected Precision Effects At Range Capability 3 (SPEAR 3) programme, the missile will be marketed internationally as ‘SPEAR’. The programme is being driven by the requirement for bay-mounted weapons on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Company is seeking interest from other F-35 partner nations. According to Export Working Group Leader Rob Thornley some partners may well have clearly defined requirements. “What we will try to do” said Thornley “is take those on board and look to see if the UK’s broader capability can meet those requirements and needs”. Thornley also acknowledged that the UK’s switch from the F-35C to the F-35B variant poses some “technical challenges” in order to accommodate a shorter bomb bay length.
The vagaries of the domestic market were also demonstrated by the recent UK decision not to deploy the Fire Shadow loitering munition to Afghanistan. Deliveries by MBDA to the British Army, as part of the MoD’s Indirect Fire Precision Attack (IFPA) project, began in March 2012. Fire Shadow provides the Royal Artillery with a precision strike capability out to a range of around 100 kilometres. The system can be targeted by a range of ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) assets, such as unmanned aerial systems. The semi-autonomous weapon features an OITL (operator-in-the-loop) facility which means that the system remains under the control of an operator who can decide the precise timing and direction of attack. According to MBDA the decision not to deploy Fire Shadow was taken for “purely operational reasons” and is not a reflection on the equipment’s capabilities. (The decision can probably be taken as an indication of the changing deployment.) As far as the Company is concerned, Fire Shadow remains a funded programme.
For the future the Company hopes to meet the British Army’s requirement for a Rapier local area air defence weapon replacement with a variant of the Common Anti-air Modular Missile (CAMM). As part of the MoD’s Future Local Area Defence System (FLAADS) programme CAMM has been developed as a tri-Service solution, maximising modularity and commonality – with obvious cost and logistics benefits. In January 2012 MBDA received a £483 million contract for FLAADS-Maritime, known as Sea Ceptor, to replace the Royal Navy’s vertical launch Seawolf missile. Sea Ceptor will initially be fitted on Type 23 frigates from 2016 and is then planned to provide the basis for air defence for Type 26 frigates from 2021.
MBDA is currently working with the MoD to see how CAMM could be utilised in the land environment. A land-based CAMM system could operate as a stand-alone unit or be integrated within a future battlespace network. The system allows for third-party cueing and is capable of engaging multiple targets as well as non-line-of-sight targeting. Market Development Executive Phil Miller drew attention to the Company’s land vehicle demo