The weapons will be manufactured by European firm MBDA, which is owned by British defence company BAE Systems and aerospace companies Airbus and Leonardo, and “will secure hundreds of UK jobs and provide unrivalled lethality for the UK’s F-35B Lightning jets,” according to the British government.

“The development of this next-generation missile will allow us to protect our personnel and assets on the ground, from thousands of metres in the sky above,” Defence Minister Jeremy Quin said of the move.

The SPEAR3 missile has a range of more than 140 kilometres and can travel at subsonic speed, meaning the UK military could take out air defence systems from quite a distance. F-35 jets, scheduled to set sail on board HMS Queen Elizabeth when the vessel makes its maiden voyage in 2021, will be equipped with the new capabilities.

Despite the half-a-billion cost, the government claimed in a press statement that the F-35 deal forms part of a wider Complex Weapons portfolio with MBDA, which is “on track” to save the state £1.2 billion in defence costs.