LONDON, April 6 (UPI) -- In a bid to arm its incoming AgustaWestland Lynx Wildcat helicopters, Britain has become the first customer for a new multi-role missile developed by Thales UK.
Thales plans to deliver the first of 1,000 Lightweight Multi-role Missiles to the British armed forces in 2013. Unveiled in 2008, the laser beam-riding missiles will be mounted to the new Lynx Wildcat helicopters, which are to enter service in 2015.
Company officials, trying to unlock funds for the order in times of budget cuts, said in a statement they had agreed with London to "re-role previously contracted budgets to facilitate the full-scale development, series production and introduction of the LMM."
The statement didn't specify which contract was altered to free the money for the LMM. Military news Web site Defensenews.com cited analysts as saying that it was most likely a deal to deliver Starstreak short-range ground-to-air weapons, equipment that has become less important as British forces are increasingly locked in battles with ground forces.
The British government late last year said it would cut defense spending by 8 percent, reduce troop numbers by 17,000 to 158,500, scrap defense equipment such as airplanes, tanks and artillery and ax 25,000 civilian jobs in the Defense Ministry.
The LMM, however, is seen as vital to equip Britain's anti-surface helicopter forces, who are dealing with small and fast-moving targets.
The 28-pound missile has a range of more than 4 miles and can hit stationary as well as moving targets. Later versions of the LMM can vary and might be mounted to drones as well as ground vehicles, Thales said.
"The modular design of the missile permits the future development and introduction of alternative warheads and seekers, including a semi-active laser version for precision strike surface attack roles," the company said.
Thales UK is part of the Thales Group, an electronics company with 68,000 employees and one of the 10 largest defense contractors in the world. It makes electronic devices and weapons systems used in military and civil airplanes and ships.
Thales is part of a consortium including BAE Systems and Babcock International from Britain that is building two new aircraft carriers for the British armed forces and is designing a drone for the British air force.