A $748.3 million contract with MBDA to build SPEAR3 missiles for use on F-35B fighter planes was announced on Wednesday by the British Defense Ministry. Illustration courtesy of MBDA
Jan. 6 (UPI) -- The British government on Wednesday announced a $748.3 million contract for missile systems to be installed on fighter planes including the U.S.-made F-35B.
The seven-year contract with European defense contractor MBDA calls for building of SPEAR3 missiles, a six-feet-long miniature cruise missile powered by a turbojet engine.
It will be the "main medium-to-long-range strike weapon of the U.K. F-35 combat aircraft, enabling them to defeat challenging targets such as mobile long-range air defense systems at over-the-horizon ranges in all weathers and in highly contested environments," an MBDA statement on Wednesday said.
The missile will be the plane's primary air-to-ground weapon in the coming decade, the British Ministry of Defense noted in a statement.
Britain's navy and air force currently fly 21 F-35Bs, the variant offering short takeoff and landing capabilities. It expects 42 more of the planes by 2023, part of a total of 138 planned purchases.
Notably, the newest British aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, was designed in part for use by the fighter plane.
Ten U.S. Marines F-35B fighter planes arrived on the vessel in September to begin exercises in the North Sea.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group obtained its initial operating capability certification this week.
In making the announcement, British Defense minister Jeremy Quin stressed that the new contract will support 700 jobs and create 190 more high-technology jobs in system design, guidance control, and navigation and software engineering.
"The development of this next-generation missile will allow us to protect our personnel and assets on the ground, from thousands of meters in the sky above," Quin said.
"Our commitment to this system will secure hundreds of highly skilled jobs across the U.K. and showcase British technology and weapon expertise on the world stage," Quin said.