The Direction générale de l’armement (DGA) – the French defence procurement agency – has awarded European missile manufacturer MBDA the contract for the new-generation MICA air-to-air missile (AAM). The MICA NG (Missile d’Interception et de Combat Aérien Nouvelle Génération) programme is planned to yield a production weapon for delivery from 2026. According to MBDA, the MICA NG will be available to arm both current and future versions of the Rafale fighter. The existing MICA has also been integrated with the Mirage 2000.
The MICA NG is intended to replace the current MICA missiles in operational service with the French armed forces and will be offered for export – the original MICA has been sold to 14 countries worldwide. The NG programme includes an extensive redesign of the current MICA family while retaining the existing aerodynamics, mass and centre of gravity. The manufacturer says this approach will “minimise the amount of adaptation required to operate the new system with existing platforms and launchers”.
Like the current MICA, the new weapon will be provided with the option of two different seekers (infrared and radio frequency) and two launch modes (rail and ejection) in a single missile casing.
According to a press release from MBDA: “The technological step changes introduced with this change of generation will provide the capability to counter future threats. This includes targets with reduced infrared and electromagnetic signatures, atypical targets (UAVs and small aircraft), as well as the threats normally countered by air-to-air missiles (combat aircraft and helicopters).”
The infrared seeker used in the MICA NG will employ a matrix sensor for greater sensitivity. The radio frequency seeker will use an active electronically scanned array (AESA). The reduced volume of electronic components within MICA NG will allow it to carry a larger quantity of propellant, “significantly extending the range”. A new double-pulse rocket motor will also provide additional energy to the missile at the end of its flight to improve manoeuvrability and enhance its ability to intercept targets at long range.
Finally, the addition of internal sensors will allow the monitoring of the status of the weapon throughout its life (including during storage and transport), contributing to significantly reduced maintenance requirements and cost of ownership.
MBDA CEO Antoine Bouvier said at the programme launch: “We are proud of the work completed with the DGA to achieve maximum technical and financial optimisation. The fact that we have reached this stage is thanks to the vision that we were able to share with our French customer to address its operational challenges, as well as our own long-term commercial challenges. The upgrading of the MICA family will enable us to support the armed forces throughout the remaining operational life of the Rafale”.