A triplet of single-mode Brimstone missiles
|Place of origin||United Kingdom|
|Used by||RAF, RSAF|
|Wars||Operation Telic (Iraq)
Operation Herrick (Afghanistan)
Operation Ellamy (Libya)
|Manufacturer||MBDA (UK) Ltd, Lostock|
|Unit cost||(Dual Mode Variant)
£175,000 inc development
|Warhead||HEAT tandem warhead|
|Engine||Solid fuel rocket|
60+ km (37+ mi) from fixed wing, 40+ km (25+ mi) from rotor wing[N 1]
|94 GHz millimetric wave radar and INS autopilot, dual-mode adds laser guidance
Accuracy = sub-1m CEP
Brimstone is an air-launched ground attack missile developed by MBDA for Britain's Royal Air Force. It was originally intended for "fire and forget" use against mass formations of enemy armour, using a millimetre wave (mmW) seeker to ensure accuracy even against moving targets. Experience in Afghanistan led to the addition of laser guidance in the dual-mode Brimstone missile, allowing a "man in the loop" to pick out specific targets when friendly forces or civilians were in the area. The Tandem Shaped charge warhead is much more effective against modern tanks than similar weapons such as the AGM-65G Maverick, whilst the small blast area minimises collateral damage. Three Brimstones are carried on a launcher that occupies a single weapon station, allowing a single aircraft to carry many missiles.
After a protracted development programme, single-mode or "millimetric" Brimstone entered service with RAF Tornado aircraft in 2005, and the dual-mode variant in 2008. The latter has been extensively used in Afghanistan and Libya. An improved Brimstone 2 was expected to enter service in October 2012, but problems with the warhead and rocket motor have delayed it to November 2015. MBDA is working on the targeting of swarms of small boats under the name Sea Spear. The RAF intend to fit Brimstone to their Eurofighter Typhoons and planned to integrate it with their Harriers until they were withdrawn from service in 2010. MBDA are studying the use of Brimstone on ships, attack helicopters, UAVs and from surface launchers; it will be integrated on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II when the F-35B enters British service. The US, France and India have expressed interest in buying Brimstone for their aircraft but Saudi Arabia is the only export customer to date.
The missile was originally supposed to be an evolution of the original laser Hellfire, with the laser seeker replaced by a millimetre wave (mmW) seeker. During development, virtually the entire missile was redesigned, resulting in a weapon that - other than the external shape - bears no relation to the original airframe. It is unrelated to the separate development of the mmW Hellfire for the Longbow Apache. The missile airframe is developed from Lockheed's AGM-114 Hellfire, but Brimstone is an all-new design with its own motor, warhead and seeker.
Brimstone has a Tandem Shaped Charge (TSC) warhead that employs a smaller initial charge, designed to initiate reactive armor, followed by a larger, more destructive charge, designed to penetrate and defeat the base armour. It has been estimated that Brimstone will be 3 times more effective than the AGM-65G Maverick missile against modern tanks, and 7 times more effective than the BL755 cluster bomb. In combat Brimstone has demonstrated accuracy and reliability "both well above 90 percent" according to the MoD; Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton has said that 98.3% to 98.7% of Brimstone fired in Libya "did exactly what we expected".
Targeting and sensors
Brimstone is a "fire and forget" missile, which is loaded with targeting data by the Weapon Systems Officer (WSO) prior to launch. Technically, it is programmable to adapt to particular mission requirements. This capability includes essentially the ability to find targets within a certain area (such as those near friendly forces), and to self-destruct if it is unable to find a target within the designated area. This information is provided to the munition by the WSO from RAF ASTOR, USAF JSTARS aircraft or local troops.
In addition to the semi-autonomous ability to decide its own targets, the Brimstone has the capacity to determine where on a target to best impact causing the most damage or resulting in elimination of the target. The missile's advanced sensor package includes its extremely high frequency millimetric wave radar, which allows the weapon to image the target and hence choose a target location. The bandwidth of the MMW radar also makes it less susceptible to inclement weather. With as many as twenty-four missiles in the air, the missile's targeting system also required an algorithm to ensure that missiles hit their targets in a staggered order, rather than all simultaneously.
Brimstone can be fired in a number of attack profiles; direct or indirect against single targets, a column of targets or against an array of targets. The latter utilises a salvo attack capability for multiple kills per engagement. Once launched, the platform is free to manoeuvre away from the target area or engage another target array.
|Harrier with four Brimstone launchers|
|Brimstone in Iraq, January 2009|
|Video of Brimstone fired in Afghanistan, from a Tornado in 2009|
Each launch system incorporates three rails, i.e. one system carries three missiles. This allows a single aircraft to carry large numbers of missiles, for example a Typhoon could carry up to six launch systems on six individual pylons, which gives a maximum payload of eighteen Brimstone missiles, in addition to a useful air-to-air payload. The missile is carried by the Tornado GR4 in RAF service. In February 2014 the National Audit Office warned of a possible capability gap under existing plans to fit Brimstone to Typhoon in 2021, two years after the Tornado retired; in June 2014 the MoD announced a study to accelerate this to 2018 and look at a common launcher that could also launch Spear. MBDA have fired test rounds from an MQ-9 Reaper and are studying the use of Brimstone on attack helicopters and from surface launchers; it will be integrated with the F-35 Lightning II when it enters British service. Both the US and France have expressed interest in buying it for their aircraft.
It was intended that Brimstone would be integrated on the RAF Harrier fleet under Capability D of the JUMP programme with a scheduled in-service date of 2009. A Harrier GR9 first flew with 12 Brimstone on 14 February 2007, and the RAF released video of a Tornado (incorrectly reported as a Harrier) using a Dual Mode Brimstone against an Afghan insurgent in 2008. In late 2009 Brimstone was "nearing completion for integration on the Harrier" but in July 2010 it was reported that Brimstone on the Harrier would be postponed until the insensitive-munition version of the missile became available in 2012. Brimstone had not been officially cleared for use on the type when the UK Harriers were withdrawn from service in late 2010.
The missile was designed to meet the RAF's requirement for a long range anti-armour weapon, allowing strike aircraft to attack tanks and armoured vehicles at stand-off range, replacing the BL755 cluster bomb. This requirement was issued following an assessment of the British military's performance in the Gulf War. GEC-Marconi (whose missile interests now form part of MBDA) was originally awarded the contract on 7 November 1996.
The programme ended up nearly 3 years late. The first ground firing of the Brimstone missile occurred in August 1999, followed by the first air-launched firing from a Tornado GR4 in September 2000. Clearance of the missile was delayed by 12 months due to the unavailability of a Tornado trials aircraft, as the RAF chose instead to rush the development of the Storm Shadow air launched cruise missile ahead of the Iraq war, but another delay of 6 months resulted from redesigning the autopilot for safe release at higher speeds. Over 2,000 missiles were produced.
The original Brimstone could not be used in Afghanistan as the rules of engagement required a "man-in-the-loop". Under an Urgent Operational Requirement in 2008, modifications were made to the seeker and software of over 300 existing missiles to create Dual-Mode Brimstone. The new missiles can be laser guided according to the STANAG 3733 standard as well as retaining the millimetre wave seeker; the pilot can select either mode from the cockpit or use both simultaneously. Laser guidance allows specific enemy targets to be picked out in cluttered environments, the mmW radar ensures accuracy against moving targets.
The development and procurement of the original single-mode missiles cost £370m, a figure inflated by accounting charges relating to the delays. The development of the dual-mode version cost an additional £10m. The Daily Telegraph reports that the dual mode missiles cost £105,000 (~US$170,000), which is comparable to the cost of the AGM-65 Maverick; the MoD quote only a gross book value of £175,000, which includes development costs as well as the purchase cost of the missile. Upgrading a single-mode missile to dual mode costs between £35,000 and £45,000 plus VAT, depending on quantities ordered.
In March 2010 Brimstone was selected as the basis for the RAF's requirement under the Selective Precision Effects At Range (SPEAR) Capability 2 Block 1 programme. The Demonstration and Manufacture (D&M) contract will increase the missile's performance "significantly", and convert the warhead and rocket motor to use insensitive munitions. Brimstone 2 will have an improved seeker, a more modular design and improvements to airframe and software for "an overall increase in performance with improvements in range and engagement footprint", including a "more than 200% increase" in maximum range. A five-release test campaign in October 2013 culminated in a successful strike against a pickup truck travelling at 70 mph (110 km/h) in a cluttered road environment and Brimstone 2 is planned to enter service on the Tornado in November 2015.
At the same time MBDA were awarded an Assessment Phase contract for SPEAR Capability 3 (formerly SPEAR Drop 2). This will be a 100 km (54 nmi)-range anti-surface missile for the F-35 Lightning II. The original intention was for a 100 kilograms (220 lb) warhead on a 75 mi (121 km)-range weapon with substantial reuse of Brimstone modules. The 2 m (6.6 ft) weapon will fly at high-subsonic speed using a turbojet and wing kit, and will feature a multimode seeker with INS/GPS guidance and datalink. The assessment phase will conclude with flight trials in 2014 on Typhoon. MBDA have shown artwork of a four-missile launcher on a single Typhoon weapon station, and four will fit with a Meteor air-to-air missile in each internal weapons bay of the F-35B.
MBDA has started testing a maritime variant called Brimstone Sea Spear for use against swarms of small boats. On 25 June 2012 a Tornado GR4 dropped a prototype that hit and sank a 6-metre inflatable boat travelling at 20 kts in sea state 3. The following month MBDA said that a viable system could be offered "within months"; the initial focus is on deployment from fast jets and surface launchers, MBDA is marketing it in the Gulf for installation on vessels down to 15m. On 29 May 2013, MBDA conducted a salvo firing of three millimetric wave operational Brimstone missiles, launched from a fixed offshore platform, against a simulated attack formation of five targets representing FIACs (Fast Inshore attack Craft). The successful test firing demonstrated Brimstone Sea Spear’s ability to strike numerous individual targets. During the test one of the targets, a 15-m craft, was travelling at 20 knots. The Sea Spear competed with the Raytheon Sea Griffin missile for integration onto American Littoral combat ships. The Navy instead selected the AGM-114L Hellfire as a stop-gap missile for the LCS.
Royal Air Force
In March 2005, Brimstone entered service with No. 31 Squadron RAF. Full Operational Capability (FOC) was declared for the Tornado GR4 in December 2005 The first operational sortie of dual-mode Brimstone was over Iraq as part of Operation TELIC on 18 December 2008 by a Tornado GR4 of IX(B) Squadron. It was first fired in combat in June 2009, the month that the Tornado GR4's of 12 Squadron arrived in Afghanistan as part of Operation HERRICK.
Brimstone was used extensively during Operation ELLAMY over Libya in 2011. According to a British Ministry of Defence News report, dated 26 March 2011, RAF Tornado GR4 aircraft launched several Brimstone missiles over the towns of Misrata and Ajdabiya destroying a total of five armoured vehicles belonging to the Gaddafi regime. Sixty Brimstone were fired in the first four weeks of the Libya campaign, out of 110 Brimstone fired in all operations up to that time. This prompted the MoD to ask MBDA to convert more missiles to the dual-mode version. 150 dual-mode missiles had been ordered in December 2010, but according to the Royal United Services Institute, stocks of usable dual-mode missiles fell to single figures at one stage of the Libya campaign. The 500th dual-mode Brimstone was delivered in March 2012, at which time over 200 had been fired in combat. The single-mode missile was not fired in combat until 15 September 2011 when a pair of RAF Tornado GR4 of IX(B) Squadron fired 22 missiles (including a salvo of 12 by one aircraft) against an armoured column near Sebha/Sabha, 400 miles south of Tripoli.
Around £10 million of Brimstones from the RAF stock were sold to the Royal Saudi Air Force for use on their Tornados. In April 2011, the RAF's Assistant Chief of the Air Staff Air Vice Marshal Baz North reported that the missiles were "being sought by both the United States of America and the French" in the light of Brimstone's success in Libya. France's DGA procurement agency held meetings in late May 2011 to discuss a lightweight air-to-surface weapon for the Dassault Rafale; Stéphane Reb of the DGA would merely say that "Brimstone is a solution, but it's not the only option". In early 2014 the US congress' house armed services showed interest again in the missile, US high ranks have stated they "like it" and if they do choose it they "need it out soon". The French Air Force were still thinking about a purchase in March 2012, with a prime consideration being lower collateral damage compared to the AASM. India has made a request for information about integrating Brimstone on their Sukhoi Su-30MKI fleet. MBDA hopes that firings conducted in the U.S. intended for the U.K. to test the feasibility of arming British MQ-9 Reaper UAVs with the missile will persuade the U.S. military to purchase the Brimstone 2. In July 2014, it was revealed that the United States Navy was beginning environmental and integration analysis of the Dual Mode Brimstone for use on the F/A-18 Super Hornet.
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