A few years ago, asked about a possible involvement of the European missile company in the Loitering Munitions (LM) domain, the company management stated that at that stage MBDA was not considering such a move.
Recent regional conflicts highlighted the importance of such weapons, which led to a common European programme under the auspices of PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation), known as “Small Scalable Weapons”, SSW in short. The SSW is part of the 4th wave of PESCO projects, announced on 16 November 2021. According to the PESCO document, “The objective of this project is to provide the MoDs with a new, small, low-cost weapon, featuring the capability to provide scalable-effects and the ability to loiter/re-loiter. Equipping conventional and rotary, manned and unmanned aerial vehicles, this weapon could target moving, soft or lightly armoured vehicles in real-time, with a negligible collateral damage and with some automatic features aiding the ever-present man-in-the-loop.” Italy is the coordinator for the SSW programme, the other participating country being France, MBDA being clearly one of the industrial partners involved in the project.
However the involvement of the company goes beyond the work done at European level. Talking to the media during the yearly MBDA Italy press conference, Lorenzo Mariani, Executive Group Director Sales and Business Development, and Managing Director of MBDA Italy, confirmed that the LM theme is followed at group level; “MBDA Italy is working at concept development stage,” he stated, underlining that MBDA can leverage part of the work done in the past when it worked on the Small Scalable Kinetic Weapon, a US AFRL (US Air Force Research Laboratory) in the a low-cost autonomous weapon with a weight under 10 kg capable to immobilise unarmoured targets in urban environments. MBDA UK also led Team LM that aimed at answering a UK MoD requirement with its Fire Shadow, the programme being then cancelled in the UK 2017-18 Defence Budget. However times have changed.
“Loitering Munitions are complex systems, however here in Italy we can and we must concentrate on tactical systems, with a range of some tens of kilometres, and a loitering time up to 30 minutes,” the MBDA Italy Managing Director said. No figures were given on the warhead capability, however EDR On-Line understood these will remain in the order of magnitude of antitank warheads, at least one of the typical MBDA subcontractors in that domain being working on such solutions.
Talking to the head of the Group Software Division about the applications of the Artificial Intelligence (AI), EDR On-Line was told that this is not yet used in the missile kill chain, as no procedures have yet been developed to verify its role during the verification process. However AI is being considered in the development of image processing algorithms, which might lead to a different kind of terminal guidance system, which would fit particularly Loitering Munitions.
Although not yet a reality, no roadmap was provided, the mood about LMs has definitely changed at MBDA.