The ‘Select Precision Effects At Range Capability 3’ (SPEAR 3) is an air-to-ground, anti-tank, anti-structure and anti-ship missile.

SPEAR Cap 3 is characterised by the MoD as a capability “focused on the enduring requirement to engage mobile and fixed targets in hostile and complex environments”.

The missile takes the shape of a medium-range (around 120km), mini-cruise missile designed for internal carriage by the F-35.

According to MBDA, the system is effective against:

• Air Defence Units, Ballistic Missile launchers
• Defended structures
• Fast moving and manoeuvring vehicles
• Main Battle Tanks, Self-Propelled Guns, Armoured Personnel Carriers
• Naval vessels

The design of SPEAR 3 takes into account the characteristics and internal weapon constraints of the F-35B, four missiles can be accommodated in each of the F-35Bs two internal weapon bays, making for a total of 8 missiles per aircraft.

Mid-course guidance will be performed using GPS or inertial navigation utilising a two-way datalink, this enables mid-course updates, re-targeting and mission abort functions.

The UK is looking to integrate SPEAR 3 as part of Block 4 software integration on the F-35. In May last year, the MoD awarded a £411 million contract to MBDA to that effect.

In March 2016, a SPEAR trials missile was launched from a Typhoon trial aircraft operated by BAE Systems at the QinetiQ Aberporth range in Wales.

The missile transitioned through separation from the Typhoon aircraft to powered flight before completing a series of manoeuvres, ending in a terminal dive to the desired point of impact. According to reports, the missile accurately followed the planned trajectory and was well within simulation predictions; all trial objectives were achieved.


  1. It is a pretty important weapon system. It will give our Typhoons and F35s alot of bite and if the naval side progressives, then it will give us a much needed air-launched anti-ship weapon.

  2. What is the size other warhead? most anti ship missiles have a warhead of over 200kg anything less than this would not be able to neutralise a frigate sized warship.

    • Although this missile couldn’t kill the ship in the same way as something like an Exocet, because it can be so accurately targetted, it could take out the ships bridge, flight deck, radar systems or hole the hull.

      These things would essentially cripple the frigate/destroyer and deny them a means of retaliation.

      So as much as I’d to see us use a full blown ship killer, I think this will provide a better capability in cluttered environments and limited or restricted RoE.

      Hope this helps.

      • Thanks for the reply.

        Are you suggesting the guidance system of this missile has the ability to identify specific parts of a ship to enable to decide which part it will hit, eg the bridge?

        • My guess is that they specify navel vessel rather than specific size of vessels indicates it is meant for more light vessels like patrol boats. However if it is capable of taking on an advanced air defense system, then chucking say 4 of these at even a large ship is likely to do some serious dmg.

        • I don’t know 100% if that’s the case, but I’m relatively sure these weapons have a high degree of accuracy.

          Gunbuster or someone else might be along to prove me wrong (or right)

        • I believe this is how the helicopter Sea Venom achieves its effect. By tramsmittimg ( an IR?) picture back to the launch platform which remains below the radar horizon – so it can be manually guided onto a specific point like the mast or missile launch tubes. In addition I think it also has a fire and forget mode. So in theory MBDA could incorporate these seeker stratagems into Spear 3. Which is not to say they have of course.

    • Id also like to know the warhead size, given the number that fit in the weapons bay I would assume something comparable to a Brimstone which is small for anti-ship use.

      That said when ships are lost its often due to uncontrollable fires. More missiles increases the chance of a hit, complicates the picture for AA defenses and means you are likely to hit and disable more ship components. Four of these missiles is probably going to be significantly more effective than a single harpoon or similar for ASW.

      • Can’t guarantee it but I thought I read somewhere some months ago that the missile was capable of disabling a vessel up to the size of a Corvette. If that is a single missile presumably accurately targeted where it counts, then 2 or 3 would potentially seriously hurt a frigate or destroyer. A nice capability but not probably something you would wish to rely on as your first line of attack against larger vessels.

  3. Dont we already have a lot of great anti tank and anti structure weaponry? What we need is anti ship missiles, they should concentrate on that.

    • Lewis, when you consider the combat effect this missile / aircraft combination will have , its a real game changer.

      A single F35 flying at 25000 ft, will be able to sanitise a huge area and have a kill box 65 miles around it.

      That’s a very impressive capability and gives a single aircraft enormous effect.

      With regards ship capability, it’s main target would be Corvette and smaller ships. Plus, a SPEAR3 would be well able to cause considerable damage to a major war ship, it doesn’t have to sink it, only knock it out of the fight. if its capable of killing a MBT, then its perfectly capable of penetrating a thin skinned warship and knocking out the bridge, sensors etc.

      This will be a very important weapon for us and enable us to punch well above our small sized force.

      It needs to be integrated on the Typhoon too.

      • That would be ideal but if it costs over £400 million per platform type to integrate then it might be F-35B only. Maybe the £400 million to MBDA is for development AND integration, the article is not clear. If that’s the case and only part of the £400 million is for integration on F-35B then we can probably manage to get it on other platforms as well.

      • Yes but with the same effect you could use Brimestone, GBUs and Hellfires. What we severely lack is anti ship capability for jets. It would be preferable if this was a dedicated anti ship missile.

        But then again it’s a pipe dream, they’ve gone with a multirole missile. Jack of all trades, master of none.

      • As I understand it the plan is that it will be also be integrated onto Typhoon, which if it carries Meteor, Paveway, Brimstone and Spear 3 will as you say control an area of radius at least 60 miles in the air and on the ground especially if fitted with Captor-E.

    • Yep, Brimstone on Steroids with much longer legs..

      We should also integrate the missile on our Reaper force. Assuming it can be remotely targeted by other aircraft that is.

      Imagine a “Sentinel type” aircraft, targeting at range for a couple of SPEAR equipped reapers, somewhere like Afghanistan. Tremendous capability.

    • Similar concept I think; networked and able to hit mobile targets. Brimstone is a supersonic rocket powered missile with an armour piercing warhead, a tank killer. Spear 3 is a subsonic turbojet but with a much longer range than either Brimstone or the US small diameter bomb which is a glide weapon they will fit to their F-35s. I’m guessing either weapon should be able to hit a mobile SAM radar for example.

  4. The article doesn’t say anything about terminal guidance. As I understand it, and unless stuff got dropped from the plan in the last few years, in addition to targeting a GPS coordinate it also has a fully active millimetric radar seeker that, if a suitable profile is in its database, can even target the turret ring on a tank for example. It also has a semi-active laser seeker so a target can be designated by a third party, e.g. perhaps a special forces unit calling in a strike.

    Pacman27 – From my understanding that’s a reasonable accurate simple summary although being a generation on from Brimstone I am sure that, apart from simply being bigger (total weight about 100kg vs 48.5kg for Brimstone) there will be lots of other tweaks to improve performance and efficiency.

    A pretty complete write up on Spear 3, albeit a year or two old but I don’t think significantly out of date, is here:

    Note the picture in that article of a render of a VLS Spear 3 which I assume was done by MBDA. I believe the concept is for a soft launch from a Sea Ceptor tube with a strap on first stage booster (as planned for CAMM-ER) to give the required range since it wouldn’t be being released at altitude. If that became a reality that could be a very valuable addition to any vessel that only has Sea Ceptor soft launch VLS (perhaps the mine hunter replacements when they happen) to expand the range of roles they might perform and allow their soft launch silo to do more than AAW self protection.

    Personally I think Spear 3 is hugely exciting and can’t come too soon.

  5. I to really like S3 capability and concept. I think it will be a fantastic addition within its limitations. My only sobering comment… And open to be corrected… It that the combined F35 flying radius and S3 range is still less than the longest range Russian anti ship missiles.

    Can’t loose sight of need for a Harpoon replacement.

  6. The new US anti ship missile LRASM has a 450kg warhead, the Norwegian JSM (which can be fitted internally on F35) has a 250kg warhead.

    The Spear 3 in total weighs around 100kg so the warhead is going to be less than 50,kg.

    Why is it that all nations developing new anti ship missiles think there is a need for a heavy warhead yet the UK does not.

    What am I missing here? It would appear the anti ship capability of SPEAR 3 is extremely limited.

    • Isn’t there a problem that some of these missiles only fit the f35a and not the b version, because the b’s have a smaller internal bay?

      • No, they do fit internally in the B. As I understand it each bay can hold 4 Spear 3 on the internal rail plus one Meteor on the inside of the weapon bay door so a total internal load for an F-35B (using both internal bays) is 8 x Spear3 plus 2 x Meteor.

        Personally I would be much less excited about it if it couldn’t be carried internally by an F-35B.

        • I think Steve was referring to the JSM not fitting inside the F35b, only the a’s and c’s. When there is a need for the UK F35s to remain stealthy, Spear may be a better option in some cases than carrying LRASM or JSM externally, though I would certainly see the acquisition of one of these as beneficial.

          • D’oh. Of course he is. Thanks BdtP and sorry for the misunderstanding Steve.

            It is indeed a big disappointment that JSM won’t fit into an F-35B internal bay. With Norway presumably going to integrate it onto their P-8A at some point, and NSM being a very interesting box launched anti ship missile for T31 and maybe elsewhere, the NSM/JSM technology looks widely applicable for the UK. Internal F-35B carriage would have been the real icing on the cake.

        • I think box launched NSM should be added to the Type 45’s and Type 31e’s. I can’t see the Type 45’s getting Mark 41. VLS with the ongoing cuts.

          • Why would you wish to put MK 41 on the T45? We have a more covert platform for land attack in the sub force. The T45 already has room for 16 Harpoon size SSM. I would rather see more VLS for Sea Viper and added Sea Ceptor.

    • This is not an anti-ship missile. Its a mini cruise missile that has advanced precise targeting and capabilities to deal with agile targets.

    • I think that what you’re missing Mike is that Spear 3 isn’t really an anti-ship missile, it’s primarily a small ground target missile but MBDA are throwing in all the possible secondary uses into the marketing blurb. MBDA has also mentioned the possibility of adding the ability for Sea Ceptor to do surface engagement and, were that to happen, you presumably wouldn’t become super-critical of the whole Sea Ceptor program because it does not compare in its secondary use scenario with missiles specifically designed for surface engagement.

      I don’t think that anyone really thinks that Spear 3 against a large vessel is in any way comparable with something like LRASM or JSM, the comparison is laughable, but if I was under swarm attack from a number of small or even medium-small vessels I would quite like to know that Spear 3 was another weapons system that could target them. In fact the same goes for Sea Ceptor. The more flexibility the better provided one doesn’t kid oneself into thinking that because a weapon has a secondary ancillary use against a certain class of target that means that one can do away with weapons whose primary purpose is to neutralise that class of target.

      Spear 3 might also be reasonably effective against medium sized targets if it has suitable database data on a specific target, e.g. class of ship, for its terminal radar guidance. If it can target the turret ring on a tank then it should be able to target funnels, radar masts, guns, bridge etc so might be able to do a mission kill even with a modest warhead.

      Disclaimer – I am not an expert, just a civilian interested in this stuff and reading about it for a while, so please any experts jump in if some or all of the above is rubbish. I want to learn and welcome corrections.

      • Well said Sir, people don’t view things in a conflict situation often enough where re-stocking of your armaments may not be a reliable or predictable process. To have a system that is good at what it does ie take out small targets (which is still arguably the most likely scenario In today’s politically fractious world anyway) while offering a useful back up to whatever main offensive anti ship capability you have is a fabulous asset. One only has to look at past conflicts where regular use of weapons or technology in scenarios they were not specifically designed for was crucial and often not only very successful but on some occasions actually more successful than its originally designated purpose.

    • We can’t afford to develop everything and can procure an ASM solution from either of the allies you mention. As long as we buy LRASM to replace Harpoon and eventually Tomahawk I will be happy.

        • Well that capability won’t be available till perhaps late 2020s or even 30s though from what I have read. Unless that timescale is well off or I am mistaken surely something needs to fill the gap of losing Harpoon?

          • Who says the UK will be losing Harpoon? Type 23’s will be in service for many years to come.

          • Apparently we won’t lose Harpoon until at least 2020 (so we’ll lose them in 2020), so we’ll have T23s, but not the missiles. Perseus is bound to go over budget and get delayed so we’re probably looking at the mid 2030s for it to come into service. That’s a huge gap that needs to be filled by a capable weapon.

      • The Type 31e is due to enter service from 2023 and the new British / French missile is not due until 2030, so we’ll either end up with Harpoon for the next 12 years (which is scandalous) or we have a stop gap where I think box launched NSM would be ideal.

    • Pretty shore the mod are getting the us missile for the type 26, so presumably f35 will get it to. Besides this missile isn’t specifically for anti ship work, just an add bounce.

    • Lots of love for LRASM on this site and others. But its still in development and may or may not be ordered for the USN in bulk.

      And folks are forgetting the joint Anglo-French program for a heavyweight anti-ship/land attack missile that will follow on from Storm Shadow and will equip UK F-35’s.

      • Yes, the British / French missile is not due until 2030. Sticking with Harpoon for a further 12 years is unthinkable. We need a stop gap where box launched NSM would be ideal in my opinion.

  7. I think the UK military are onto something here. Imagine the potential damage to a major warship hit by 18-24 of these missiles each independently targeting sensitive spots eg hangar, CIWS, radar sets, bridge, waterline etc etc
    An accumulation of damage that would take the ship out of action for a very long period of time or make the ship much more easy pickings for a follow up astute class strike.
    Just so long as the cost per missile is not £1 million each (needs to be £250k or less) and we can order in thousands of them.
    Otherwise this project will end up like all most recent defence acquisitions exquisite kit but not enough of it.

    • Certainly i think in a modern warfare situation a saturation style attack is the only way to get through a modern air defence. Ok flying low to the water, like Argentina did to great effect in the Falklands, is always going to be difficult to deal with, but that only works if there is no air borne radar in the area which you assume most modern tasks groups would have.

      • I agree that a saturation against naval targets will overcome the most robust defence systems, but the most effective way is stealth missiles with large warheads at maximum stand off range.

        Spear 3 has no stealth capability, a small warhead and the launch range is well within the air defence systems of modern naval warships

        • I would take low cost saturation missiles over high cost stealth missiles everyday of the week. Stealth missiles will still be detected by IRST and unless they are travelling at mach 4 will be easily intercepted. It’s much harder to block 8 missiles than it is to block 1. Also spending $1mm on a missile to take out a single terrorist because there is no cheaper alternative is costing the tax payer a fortune.

        • But surely the aircraft firing it has stealth of the highest quality. If not then seems pretty pointless paying fortunes to add similar ‘suspect’ stealth to a small expendable missile. Equally it’s small size and the option for multiple attack would arguably be at least as useful as a larger more stealthy single missile. Though only a real life conflict would prove that argument either way I suspect.

        • Not forgetting that the Mk45 5 in gun, which will be fitted on Type 26 and hopefully on Type 45 and Type 31 will have an option for guided over the horizon shells. They will not be cheap but with a rate of fire of 15 or 20 shells a minute and a range of perhaps 50 miles or more do you really need a short – medium range anti ship missile?

  8. So we would have to launch say 12+ of these missiles to do the same amount of damage as 1 LRASM or JSM.

    That doesn’t make military or economic sense.

    Of course Spear 3 could take out a small ship with one strike, same as a Sea Skua/ Sea Venom type missile, but in reality it will not offer the UK a viable air launched anti ship missile capability against major warships.

    Given our global naval aspirations, should not the UK procure a modern ship, submarine and aircraft launched anti ship missile rather than fudging the issue with spear 3?

    • Mike it depends, if the single missile gets shot down you do no damage at all. If you shoot down 6 of the Spear 3, you still wreck the target with the remaining 6. Ideally you want both types as I would want to attempt the overwhelming of the defences with Spear 3 and kill strike with the heavier missile once the target is degraded.

      • There is a further thought to ensuring you use a saturation attack on ships and that is logistics!
        A Western Frigate for example will probably carry no more than 32 SAMs, if you throw something like Spear3 at it, this will soak up that small stock. Imagine repeated attacks using cheap throw away missiles. Will that ship be working alone or part of a task group? If so how quickly can it get its stock replenished before its completely vulnerable to a proper ship killer?

        • Spot on. Both options are needed in real life conflicts. Idealised computer simulations don’t hold up in war unless you achieve everything you need to in some form of pre-emptive strike.

  9. SPEAR cap 4 is the large air launched AShM. Intended to replace Exocet, Harpoon and Storm Shadow.

    The project is just getting going with MBA developing their Perseus concept for the UK and France. It’s the next one after SPEAR3 in the work flow so won’t be in service until around 2030 unless they chuck more money at it. I guess you could fudge a naval seeker onto the existing Storm Shadow if we get desparate. Or buy NSM or LRASM off the shelf as a stopgap.

    SPEAR5 is the Tomahawk and MdeCN replacement. That comes later still.

    • Talk about the new missile being based on Perseus is purely internet chatter i.e. mostly nonsense.

      Perseus was a CG video showing off a few new MBDA ideas. Nothing lay behind it in terms of real development. It was a marketing exercise created for a Paris air show.

      P.S. equipping Storm Shadow with a naval seeker would neither be quick or cheap and would be pointless given that F-35 will be unable to carry them. The only stop-gap, off the shelf solution for the UK would be the Norwegian NSM.

  10. Good. The whole SPEAR programme is vital.

    Again the costs are eye watering though.

    What actually happens to integrate a missile onto a plane to cost £400 million? Obviously not just hanging it on a pylon underneath and seeing how it, and the aircraft, perform. Are we talking software code here?

    The figures always seem so high, almost enough for a couple of T31’s. Sorry for this naive sounding post this is one area I really do not have any knowledge on.

    • I think that most of that cost goes to making sure that rather than the missile working nearly all of the time, it works without fail. I’ve got no idea what goes into creating that kind of assurance, but I bet it is difficult and, therefore, expensive.

    • Integrating costs are indeed eye watering. If anyone would come up with a solution, governments and manufacturers would pave the path to their home in gold.

  11. People are getting rather hung up on the anti ship side of things, this weapon and F-35B represents a fundamental shift in thinking over how we operate.

    Rather than operating multiple types of aircraft that are role specific capable of carrying multiple weapons that are mission specific we are moving towards a single type that is highly situational aware and carry’s a small range of weapons that can be pressed into multiple tasks.

    Rather than a commander saying “have I got the right aircraft in the area carrying the correct munition for the task?” they can direct what they have in the air at the time knowing it can engage the target of opportunity.

    Makes life logistically easier and cheaper not having to handle lots of different weapon types. We end up with SPEAR 3 to engage small to medium targets and SPEAR 4 for big stuff. Much better use of our money especially in the case of the latter.

  12. I think that when the article states Naval vessels, they are pointing at small gun boat type vessels in us by countries such as Iran. which have a habit of playing silly buggers with naval warships as they transit the straits of Hormuz . Along the lines of a future Sea Skua which with an 80 mile range has the legs to allow the delivery aircraft to remain out of harms way. Funny enough the Sea Venom which will be replacing the Sea Skua has a reported range of only 12 kms, the missile it is replacing had a range of 25 kms.

  13. It is great weapon, mini cruise missile “slow brimstone ii” but my question mark on it because same range as “fast brimstone ii” also for around similarly cost?

    Is both different sizes (kg) or type in warhead? If not what a point have both when brimstone ii since brimstone ii is “spear 2”, brimstone ii is better chance passed csw defence that spear 3 due speed.

    Would love see brimstone nlos Version to replace spike nlos.

    spear 3 is it have sea skimming (naval) and pop up (land) attack capacity? So that is very useful options which worth to buy which have nice option both.

    So spear so far I know,
    Spear 1: paveway IV and marlet.
    Spear 2: brimstone ii upgrade?? (iii) and sea venom
    Spear 3 spear 3
    Spear 4: peregus (possible buy norwagian jsm)
    Spear 5: (don’t idea possible lrasm “cruise version” is over 1500 miles) would like see British version as all each is British design and weapon” and hardbutt for heavy bomb penetrate bunker bomb

    All these spear 1 to 5 are very flexible and multiroles capacity which make a sense to save buy rather too many weapon for each roles and cheaper intergrate for all aircraft.

  14. Maybe the article answered why Spear 3 is important but I must have missed it.

    The answer is that Brimstone has shown to be an extremely effective weapon in the current anti-terrorist wars. However against an an enemy with a robust anti-air capability, Brimstone puts its launch aircraft too close to the target. Spear 3 fixes this problem by providing a much greater stand off range.

  15. If the range is 60 miles that should be enough for F35B to approach safely to launch range get the missiles away and turn away from any return fire before the F35B is detected. It’s stealth is pretty good. I doubt even the Russian area denial SAMs can detect F35B until they are 20-30 miles away. S400/S500. If spear 3 has an anti radar seeker head that will make it deadly against SAM sites

  16. I think the Spear 3 will be a great asset to our F35b’s in future and hope they make it VLS compatible as well.

    However I think Brimstone Sea Spear would be an excellent addition to the River Class OPVs and first five Type 31e’s as they will be relatively inexpensive, able to serve as a deterrent, can be used as a saturation attack on larger vessels and defend from swarming attacks from manned and unmanned vessels as well documented in the Middle East.

  17. I wonder whether a Tomahawk could be configured as a host for a number of Spear 3s. If possible, it would provide our Type 26 frigates with the ability to saturate land or naval targets at very long range. The

    • I think there is an anti-ship seeker for Tomahawk now so it would be an option for Type 26 or any ship with Mk41 strike length VLS. Pricey though I think.

      • Also, how effective would it be? Relatively slow, not stealthy and unless something has changed not particularly good at evasive manoeuvres. OK for taking out unescorted tankers and other supply ships but any large vessel with a half decent missile defence system would surely knock it down many km from the target wouldn’t it?

        • I think of it as a theoretical option or marketing ploy probably. Given that RN doctrine is averse to any of the fire and forget anti-ship missiles I don’t see it happening.
          NSM works as a shore battery for Norway and Poland because you can assume any ship headed towards you is probably an enemy vessel. It would work well in open water if you had good target identification, but then so would Harpoon 1C; though being older technology I suspect it would be easier to decoy and/or destroy.
          Sea Venom and Wildcat make an excellent system. Sea Spray radar will detect and identify a surface target threat at well over 100 miles range depending on altitude. I think the idea would be to approach at sea level until you get within about 30-40km then launch Sea Venom in fire and forget mode if the target is FAC or corvette sized or for a larger target like a frigate have it pass an IR image back to the Wildcat which can stay safe below the radar horizon while the operator guides the missile onto the target’s mast/bridge/launch tubes with a view to disabling it. With a Wildcat a Type 31e could I think effectively control an area of sea of radius 100-150 miles.

  18. With each of a queen Elizabeths class f35B sorties able to carry 8 of these in internal bays that’s a lot of rounds with which to do a lot of things.

    As for ooohhh but for a heavy weight ASM lovefest that goes on sometimes, it’s worth remeb ring almost all present Heavy ASM’s are so dumb as to be unfirable unless you are in eyeball range or in some clancyesk WW3 “don’t need to worry about lots of innocent bystander random ships floating around the the sea lanes” world. So a clever small “not likely to sink a cruiseliner if it all goes wrong” system is just what’s needed.

    Remember there are examples of big air defence cruisers being mission killed by small anti radiation missiles.

  19. We should consider how this weapon might be used in the worst case scenario. That is full-blown conflict with Russia.

    The last time I checked, the nastiest surface target we might encounter is an upgraded Kirov-class battlecruiser equipped with 192 SAMs including some that are an S-400 equivalent. Four F-35Bs ought to be able to close within 65 miles to launch 32 Spear 3s. I would have thought such an attack would overwhelm the ship’s anti-aircraft capabilities and cripple her sufficiently that she would turn for home. The issue is that the F-35s are not very stealthy from the rear aspect and might be detected as they turned away.

    Russian knowledge that we have the ability to deliver such an attack might make them cautious about making bold moves with their large ships. The absence of a significant surface presence of covering ships ought to make it far less likely that their subs would press into our ASW ships and aircraft that would doubtless be operating around the GIUK gap.


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