A STATE-OF-THE-ART missile more advanced than the fearsome Brimstone used to destroy Islamic State hideouts is being developed by British manufacturers.
The £400 million project will enable the UK's next generation of fighter jets to tackle terrorist groups in the Middle East.
Spear 3 is from the same family of weapons as Brimstone, currently used by the RAF in pinpoint strikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
But the new weapon packs an even bigger punch and has a significantly increased range, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.
The weapons, which will take four years to design and test, will eventually be used on the UK's future F-35B supersonic stealth aircraft.
If successful, the missile system will enter services in the mid-2020s.
Spear 3 uses turbojet engine technology rather than a traditional rocket motor, giving it a range of more than 60 miles.
Brimstone missiles have as little as a 7.5-mile range when deployed from a helicopter.
It was first test fired from an RAF Typhoon in March during a flight over West Wales.
Manufacturing sites in Stevenage, Bristol and Lostock in Greater Manchester will help build the advanced weaponry.
Defence Minister Philip Dunne, said: "This contract will give UK pilots a state-of-the-art British designed weapon to be used on board our next-generation F-35B jets, with the precision and punch that we need to give decisive operational advantage over our adversaries and keep Britain safe.
"It has been made possible by this Government's £178 billion commitment to the very best equipment for our Armed Forces and by our growing Defence budget."
Spear 3 will first be used in battle when Britain receives an order of F-35s — the first of which are due to be delivered this summer.
One of the Lightning II warplanes' most eye-catching features is its ability to take off on short runways and land vertically, as the retired Harrier jump jets were once able to do.
This allows the jets to take off from aircraft carriers or short runways which conventional fighter jets would be unable to use.
F-35s will operate from the UK's land bases as well as the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.
The first of the new fighter jets will be operational by 2018.