New missile means jets can hit target from 85 miles

The first F-35 B Lightning stealth aircraft piloted by Wing Commnder John Butcher touches down at RA

F35 Lightning jets at RAF Marham will be equipped with a new missile which can hit its target from 85 miles away - Credit: Ian Burt

Norfolk's Lightning Force is being equipped with a new missile which can hit its target from 85 miles away.

A £550m contract has been signed for new missiles to increase the firepower of the RAF Marham-based F35 jet, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced.

Spear3 (Selective Precision Effects at Range Capability 3), a "next-generation" missile, will become the primary air-to-ground weapon for the RAF over the next decade.

At 1.8m long, the missiles have a range of 85 miles and are powered by a turbojet engine, allowing them to travel at supersonic speeds.

They can operate across land and sea, day or night, to overpower enemy air defence systems, while the pilot and aircraft remain a safe distance away.

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The UK currently has 21 fifth-generation F35s, having received three more jets on November 30. The aircraft are based at Marham and can be deployed from the Navy's new aircraft carried, HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The new seven-year contract with arms manufacturer MBDA will also support more than 700 UK jobs, including the creation of 190 highly skilled technology positions.

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An initial demonstration phase will assess the weapon system against the UK military's requirement through testing, simulation and trials, including controlled firings from a Typhoon aircraft.

Defence minister Jeremy Quin said: "The development of this next-generation missile will allow us to protect our personnel and assets on the ground, from thousands of metres in the sky above.

"Our commitment to this system will secure hundreds of highly skilled jobs across the UK and showcase British technology and weapon expertise on the world stage."

Colonel Martin French, of the MoD, said: "Building on the successes and technology achievements of the previous four years' work with MBDA, we now enter the exciting and challenging demonstration phase where we start to prove the system against the UK's requirements and ramp up activities to integrate this highly capable weapon system on to the F35 aircraft."

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