Among the weapons to be integrated first will be Raytheon's Paveway IV and the MBDA AIM-132 Asraam air-to-air missile for external carriage. Officials hope to integrate the MBDA Meteor into Block 4 and are studying options to expand the type's air-to-ground capability through the U.K.'s Selected Precision Effects at Range (Spear) program. Officials close to the Spear program say the Lightning II could carry up to 24 Spear III missiles—regarded as replacements for the Dual-Mode Brimstone weapon currently employed on the Panavia Tornado GR4—while Raytheon is working on a series of capability improvements for Paveway IV, in readiness for the JSF.
Thompson says work on the Block 4 is underway, and that such upgrades would take six years to develop because of the time taken to define the requirements. Officials have pointed out that JSF offers an opportunity for “increased international collaboration” in the event of coalition operations with nations having the potential to use each other's weapons in the event of an urgent operational requirement.
A critical part of the program for the U.K. will be in supporting the aircraft. Thompson says it is the U.K.'s aim to deliver the same level of support capability, whether the aircraft is on “land or sea,” via Lockheed Martin's networked Autonomic Logistics Global Support Solution
“Achieving the same level of support at sea as on land is essential,” Thompson emphasizes, and the processes to achieve this were clearly demonstrated when operating the Joint Force Harrier (JFH) construct, which saw the joint operation of the Harrier GR9 by Royal Navy and RAF squadrons embarked in the Invincible-class carriers. The Lightning II carrier strike operation is likely to emulate much of the JFH structure with one main difference—the ship has been designed from the ground-up to accommodate Lightning II.