Explained: What Gives Meteor Missile, Which Will Arm IAF’s Rafale Fighters, The ‘Largest’ No-Escape Zone
Here’s what Meteor brings to air-to-air combat.
Much like the use of the phrase ‘deft diplomacy’ by the foreign policy commentariat, the expression ‘game changer’ is often abused when referring to the acquisition of weapon systems in India.
Not every piece of shiny equipment that is bought is a game changer; in many cases, it is simply an upgrade to an existing capability.
Rafale fighter of the Indian Air Force, the first of which will arrive later this week, is undeniably more than just an upgrade — a game-changer, if you will.
The weapons it packs, among other things, make the Rafele fighter the platform it has evolved into over the last two-and-a-half decades — most of all, MBDA’s Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile.
What makes Meteor different from other air-to-air missiles?
One, its propulsion system.
Instead of a traditional rocket motor, the Meteor missile uses GmbH’s solid fuel, variable flow, ducted rocket system, also called ramjet.
The Ramjet propulsion system gives Meteor the ability to throttle its engine (control engine power) during the various stages of its flight towards its target.
The propulsion system in a standard air-to-air missile does not give this option.
This gives the Meteor an edge over a standard air-to-air missile.
“The ramjet motor [propulsion system] provides the [Meteor] missile with thrust all the way to target intercept, providing the largest No-Escape Zone of any air-to-air missile,” the literature on the missile on MBAD website reads.
Here’s what this means: when a Meteor missile is fired, it is able to throttle its engine back while it is flying towards its target in the cruise phase.
This saves a lot of its fuel. When the missile reaches close to its target, it throttles up its engine using the saved fuel and enters the terminal phase of its flight in a high-energy state.
In comparison, in a standard air-to-air missile, the propulsion system delivers energy in an unmodulated manner, providing the same amount of thrust over a certain period as it can’t be throttled.
If the target is far, the missile will have less energy in the terminal phase of its flight than the one powered with a ramjet motor.
Being in a high-energy state in the terminal phase helps the missile maneuver easily to counter the evasive tactics of the target it is chasing.
In short, the ramjet-equipped Meteor has greater chances of hitting a target at long ranges than an air-to-air missile using a typical rocket motor.
This capability gives Meteor the largest ‘no-escape zone’ — the area within which the target can’t kinetically avoid being hit or the kill probability is very high.
Two, its communication system.
To hit their targets accurately, missiles need mid-course updates to make corrections to their trajectory.
If the missile has the latest data on the location of its target, the probability of it hitting the target is better than it would be otherwise.
Meteor missiles can receive such updates not only from the fighter it is fired from, but also from “third party” sources like other friendly fighters in the battle zone, airborne early warning and control aircraft (AEW&C), and land and sea-based radars.
This is especially useful when the missile is chasing a target at long range.
Once fired, the missile can depend on AEW&C aircraft or ground-based radar, which can track the target at greater ranges than the fighter which fired it.
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