Brimstone Guided Missile

The Brimstone missiles is a potent and precision guided anti-armour missile that arms RAF Typhoons and Protectors

The RAF describe Brimstone as;

Brimstone is an advanced, rocket-propelled, radar-guided weapon and can seek and destroy armoured targets at long range. For indirect mode, weapons are launched when the targets and their position are not visible to the attacking aircraft, whereas, in direct mode, the pilot uses an on board sighting system to select the target. The target can lie off the aircraft’s track obviating need for the pilot to manoeuvre to release weapons. 

Brimstone is currently integrated on Typhoon. Future plans include Protector, F-35B integration was dropped some time ago in favour of SPEAR Capability 3 and the British Army has selected the Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM) for use on their new AH-64D Attack Helicopters.

Brimstone 2 has now entered service.

Brimstone History


Brimstone can probably trace its history back to 1978 when the RAF’s steerable cluster bomb (VJ291) was cancelled.

Instead of developing the VJ291, the MoD decided to improve the BL755 cluster bomb rather than purchase the US Maverick missile stating that the more demanding stand-off requirement would be developed through the Staff Requirement (Air) 1238.

Initial scoping studies for SRA 1238 commenced in 1982 and by the late eighties, the MoD completed a broad market survey with a number of systems emerging as likely candidates with some in full compliance with the requirement, and others only partial.

The two fully compliant systems were;

  • British Aerospace Air-Launched Anti-Armour Weapon (ALAAW)
  • Hunting Engineering unmanned system

The partially compliant systems were;

  • ML/Rheinmetall Damocles
  • British Aerospace/Hughes Maverick
  • Marconi/Rockwell Brimstone
  • Hunting/Honeywell SWAARM

In 1988, the MoD selected Brimstone and SWAARM for further development, noting that a partially compliant system would be both faster into service and cheaper, serving as an interim capability before the multinational Modular Stand-Off Weapon (C) delivered. MSOW(C) never progressed beyond the concept stage.

The Options for Change defence White Paper in 1990 ceased funding for SRA 1238, Alan Clarke, Minister for Defence Procurement, was quoted in the trade press;

The MoD may wish to consider designs to less stringent criteria, we have decided not to proceed with the advanced airborne, anti-armour weapon to SR(A) 1238 at this stage

A great deal of MoD and industry money had been wasted at the stage.

Experience from the 1991 Gulf War demonstrated a clear need for a fast jet launched, anti-armour weapon and the project was resurrected.

SRA 1238 was back on.

In 1994 the Staff Requirement (Air) 1238 was re-issued, the weapon would be known as the Advanced Anti-Armour Weapon (AAAW)

SR(A) 1238 was still very demanding, requiring a completely autonomous weapon to provide an all-weather, day/night system that could defeat all known armour and with a generous margin for future growth. Because of the anti-aircraft weapon density in the likely operating environment, the launching aircraft was required to release the weapon from a safe stand-off distance and at either medium or low altitude whilst flying at supersonic speeds. As a final requirement, logistics support and maintenance had to be very simple.

Five submissions were received for the AAAW programme.

BAE proposed an anti-armour variant of the new ASRAAM anti-aircraft missile, extolling the virtue of commonality. The missile was called Typhoon and would also retain an anti-aircraft capability, a universal missile of sorts. This missile was also proposed as an inner layer air defence missile for the Horizon Next Generation Frigate programme.

BAE Typhoon missile

The 450kg Hunting Engineering SWAARM 2 used an unpowered dispenser derived from the Daimler-Benz Aerospace Mehrzweckwaffe 2 DWS24 that carried sixteen Terminally Guided Submunitions (TGSM). After a toss bombing release, the dispenser was guided to the target area using an inertial navigation unit and when over the target area, ejected the submunitions in a helical search pattern. The MMW and Infra-Red sensor would scan for targets and when one was found, deploy a parachute to place the submunition at the optimum height above the target until detonation.

Hunting Engineering SWAARM

Also with a submunitions dispenser, Texas Instruments/Shorts proposed the Griffin 38, a system that would evolve into the Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW)

GEC Marconi resubmitted their Brimstone missile.

GEC Brimstone

Thomson-Thorn entered a modified version of the BL755 called the Advanced Anti Armour Weapons System (TAAWS) that used rocket-boosted sub-munitions to increase the effective range.

As part of the competition for Staff Target (Air) 428, Attack Helicopter, Brimstone was offered on the South African Rooivalk helicopter.

Nearly a decade after the initial SRA 1286 was issued to industry, in 1996, the winner was the Alenia Marconi Systems Brimstone.

In-Service Date was initially predicted to be 2001.

Initial airborne carriage trials were conducted in 1998 and a year later, firing trials were started in the USA, these unarmed tests being concluded a couple of years later in 2001.


Further testing continued in the UK including proving the MIL-STD 1760 interface used to transmit data between the missile and a launch aircraft.

Tornado Brimstone


In 2000, there was some discussion with the US about incorporating Brimstone guidance technology into the US Army Common Modular Missile (CMM) that was intended to replace Hellfire and TOW on ground and air platforms.

Also in 2000, Alenia Marconi Systems floated the idea of a laser-guided version of Brimstone it had been developing to the MoD but no further action was taken, instead, an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) purchase of AGM-65G2 Maverick missiles was made for use by the RAF Harrier fleet as an interim anti-tank capability. Operations in the Balkans had identified a clear need for an air-launched weapon that could be used in all weathers.

A 2002 Parliamentary answer revealed;

The advanced air-launched anti-armour weapon project, BRIMSTONE, has approval to spend up to £849 million, but is currently forecast to spend some £809 million

In 2003, technical problems and launch aircraft availability delayed the in-service date;

The entry into service of the Brimstone, air-launched anti-armour weapon has been delayed because of technical factors that have emerged during the development and trials of the missile and its production. A revised date is currently under review.

Brimstone finally entered service with the RAF on the 31st of March 2005, 23 years after the original work on a replacement for the BL755 and the initial release of SRA 1282.

RAF Tornado GR4 Brimstone and ALARM

A subsequent 2010 Parliamentary answer revealed the development costs of Brimstone and Dual Mode Brimstone

Quentin Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence; Grantham and Stamford, Labour)

The cost of developing the original Brimstone Missile System was £370 million. Dual Mode Seeker (DMS) Brimstone was developed as a variant of the original Brimstone system. Development costs specifically for the DMS variant amounted to about £10 million.

One of Brimstone’s principal problems was that the world changed around it.

With the Cold War over and the likelihood of massed armour attacks through Germany deemed unlikely, it was a classic Cold War Dinosaur.

Still, it was a bloody clever one.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, the RAF and FAA found themselves without a low yield precision-guided weapon with a man in the loop to satisfy stringent rules of engagement. The Maverick missile was available (and used) but it has a very large warhead and so an Urgent Operational Requirement was initiated in 2007 that would see earlier plans for an additional guidance system for Brimstone implemented.

This was to be called the Dual Mode Brimstone.

MBDA Dual Mode Brimstone

Commenting on the continuing trials work, Steve Formoso (BAE Systems Military Air & Information Chief Test Pilot) said:

“This series of flight trials has included Aero Data Gathering (ADG) flights to test how the addition of the Brimstone weapon and other assets interacts with the aircraft’s flight control system software. The results have been excellent, with the pilot maintaining manoeuvrability whilst carrying a heavy weapons load. The detailed results of these trials will now be analysed and further testing carried out ahead of firing trials. The low collateral Brimstone will provide the Typhoon pilot with the ability to precisely attack fast moving targets at range, further enhancing the aircraft’s already potent air-to-surface capabilities.

The trials were carried out with Instrumented Production Aircraft (IPA) 6.

Operational Use

In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, Brimstone was used to excellent effect in Operation Ellamy in Libya where it was for many, one of the standout weapon systems used.

There were a few minor problems with DM Brimstone but they were quickly resolved.

Two examples of use in Libya are worth noting, the first was against a regime T-55 tank on the 2nd July 2011. The tank had sought shelter from air attack in an alleyway in the town of Djebel Nafusa, It was destroyed without damage to surrounding buildings by a single Dual Mode Brimstone.

The second example took place in September near the town of Sebha. A large concentration of regime armoured vehicles was detected and using the Brimstone salvo firing technique, eight vehicles were destroyed in a single attack. Such was the expenditure rate, the RAF’s Brimstone missile stock in the theatre was down to single figures at one point.

Dual Mode Brimstone has also been used against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

In October, November and December 2015, the RAF fired 0, 12 and 9 Brimstone missiles in Iraq and Syria against ISIS.

These figures were updated in September 2016 with the publication of the Parliamentary Defence Select Committee Report on Operations Against Daesh.


Brimstone continues to be used operationally.

In September 2016, an indication of Brimstone costs

Between November 2014 and 16 September 2016 there have been 230 Brimstone missiles used in Iraq and Syria as part of Operation SHADER. The estimated cost of the use of these missiles is £18.7million.

The first firing of a Brimstone missile from Typhoon was achieved in 2017

Brimstone is part of the Phase 3 Enhancement (P3E) package which also includes mission system and sensor upgrades. P3E is the final part of Project Centurion – the programme to ensure a smooth transition of Tornado GR4 capabilities on to Typhoon for the RAF.

in 2018, the MoD awarded a £400m contract to MBDA to sustain Brimstone to 2030

Under the CSP effort, MBDA will manufacture new Brimstone missiles for the UK Armed Forces in order to replenish the country’s inventory and to maintain the UK’s battlefield edge into the future.

The new-build Brimstone missiles will incorporate all of the improved functionalities offered by the spiral upgrades of Brimstone that have taken place over recent years in order to meet UK operational requirements. These include the highly capable Dual Mode SAL/millimetric wave (mmW) seeker, enhanced autopilot, and the new insensitive munition compliant rocket motor and warhead.

The effort will also include a significant memory and processing update to the missile in order to enable all of Brimstone’s functionalities and to future-proof the missile. Brimstone CSP will deliver the baseline hardware standard that will be evolved through software enhancements which will result in a common stockpile of identical missiles for use on fast jets, attack helicopter and remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) for the UK MoD and will enable the manufacture of Brimstone to meet export orders. CSP modes will be cockpit selectable providing users with simple access to the unique performance capabilities of Brimstone against the most challenging of targets.

This was, effectively, Brimstone 3

In 2019, the first Brimstone 3 missile completed its first firing from a ground-based launcher

The Brimstone 3 ultra-high precision missile system has successfully achieved a major milestone by completing its first firing trial at the Vidsel Trials range in Sweden. Whilst enduring extreme weather conditions with temperatures below -30°C, the missile was surface launched against a pick-up truck target. All trials objectives were fully achieved with the missile proving, through a telemetry unit, full closed loop guidance with the seeker progressing into target acquisition and track.

In 2020, the RAF released images of Brimstone on the Protector RPAS undergoing trials

In June 2021, the MoD confirmed the Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM) would be used on Army Air Corps AH-64E Apache attack helicopters instead of Brimstone 3.

The Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) for the new AH-64E Future Attack Helicopter has been selected. This missile is designed for helicopter use and is already integrated within the aircraft, simulators and mission planning systems. In addition to JAGM, the Hellfire K1 and Hellfire Romeo missiles will also be fully qualified and integrated onto the aircraft.

The Labour Party were less than impressed

My right hon. Friend the Member for Warley mentioned Hellfire, the latest scandal. This relates to the new missiles for the Apache helicopters. There were two competitions: the joint air-to-ground and Hellfire missiles; and the Brimstone weapon, to which he referred. Brimstone is an effective weapon which the Americans wanted to purchase, but they were stopped by Congress. So what do you think the MOD did? Did it buy British and ensure this proven technology for our Apaches? No—it has just awarded the contract for Hellfire and JAGM to the United States, which again is exporting UK jobs. The issue with JAGM, and I have raised this with the MOD, is that it is not even at the moment, I understand, fully IM—insensitive munition—compliant, unlike Brimstone.

Brimstone Capabilities

Legacy Brimstone

Although Brimstone has a common design root as the Hellfire missile it very definitely is NOT a modified Hellfire, with almost no commonality between the two, the guidance fins being the only common component. The G loading, surface friction and speeds involved with supersonic launch made the engineering much more challenging and so although the original plan was to put the millimetric wave radar onto the front of a Hellfire, that is not how it turned out.

At 48.5kg and 1.8m long it is a compact weapon and has a tandem warhead to defeat reactive armour. The 300g precursor warhead is tilted at a downward angle to make it more effective against reactive armour and the main warhead weighs 6.2kg.


The really clever part of Brimstone though is the guidance system.

Operating at the near optical wavelength of 94 Ghz the radar seeker provides a very high-resolution radar image of the target that allows the number of target recognition algorithms to determine whether a return is a tank (and what type) or a tree or building. It is this target recognition that provides autonomy and allows the launch aircraft to turn away as soon as the weapon is released, leaving the missile to get on with the job.

Using a millimetric radar system also confers immunity from target obscuration due to weather and light conditions. The radar has a very narrow emission angle to reduce signatures and the possibility of jamming.

The missile also has a number of attack modes and can exclude low-value soft-skinned targets, attack vehicle columns in salvos or exclude certain areas. When attacking an area, the multiple missiles in a ripple launch spread out to fly side by side so they impact targets at the same time. If the target is a column the missiles will fly one behind the other, again, all impacting at the same time.

To provide even greater flexibility, the missile can receive targeting information from other platforms, ASTOR for example, proceeding on an indirect flight path to avoid terrain and mask the launch aircraft.

The rocket motor accelerates to supersonic speed in less than three seconds and is designed to boost and coast, increasing range and reducing optical and infra-red signatures, which is important when considering counter fire and the deployment of countermeasures. The launch can be from any altitude, including extreme low altitudes.

Brimstone Flight Profile

A triple launching pylon allows three Brimstone missiles to be carried per position and Tornado was designed to carry 4 such pylons. With three weapons fitted the pylon weighs 235kg.

Part of the development path for the original Brimstone was a different seeker, different warhead and increasing the target set to include maritime targets such as fast attack craft, RIB’s and small patrol vessels. At one stage it was proposed for the Sea Skua replacement. Brimstone was also proposed for the TRACER reconnaissance vehicle programme.


A Brimstone missile costs between £100k and £175k depending on whether development and support costs are included.

Although weapons release was under human control, target selection within the designated ‘kill box’ did have some degree of autonomy.

At this point, it should be clear that Brimstone is a fantastically smart and capable weapon but with a rather limited set of circumstances in which it can be used and so was condemned by many as being wasteful until Dual Mode Brimstone was available.

Dual Mode Brimstone

In a conventional interstate conflict as envisaged by Brimstone designers, the need to retain positive ‘man in the loop’ target identification and selection all the way through to terminal attack was simply not needed. Rules of engagement and the interpretation of the laws of armed conflict had moved on since the Cold War and during the counter-insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, legacy Brimstone was essentially, unusable.

After interim purchases of Maverick for the Harrier fleet, the Dual Mode Brimstone was actually a very cheap means of delivering relevant and contemporary capability.

The Dual Mode modifications included a semi-active laser (SAL) seeker head and changes to the software but it retains the radar guidance capability.

Dual Mode Brimstone

Brimstone flown by 9 Squadron


Since the introduction of DM Brimstone MBDA has also resurrected earlier work on adapting Brimstone for use in the maritime environment. In a series of privately funded trials, MBDA confirmed the ability to use the multiple target engagement radar seeker to target a number of rapidly manoeuvring fast attack craft using salvo firing technique.

In addition to using an air-launched Brimstone against small maritime targets, MBDA has also proposed the Sea Spear concept and tested Brimstone launch from a jack-up platform.

MBDA Sea Spear

Fitting the three round launcher to helicopters, naval vessels, and costal defence sites has also be studied.

Brimstone 2

Brimstone was basically a complete makeover for Dual-Mode and Legacy Brimstone

Improved engagement envelope with a greater than 200% increase in off-boresight and range envelope, although actual range remains the same as Dual Mode Brimstone. Enhanced laser and dual-mode performance especially against low reflectivity targets in highly cluttered environments.

The Vulcan Rocket Motor from Roxel provides an insensitive and extended range capability for Brimstone 2

Vulcan Rocket Motor

Despite the initial problems, the new rocket motor is a significant achievement.

The insensitive warhead is from TDW

TDW Brimstone 2 Warhead

Brimstone 2 was be integrated with Typhoon in the P3E series of enhancements that will also include Storm Shadow integration, all managed under Project CENTURION.

The cost of Brimstone/Typhoon integration alone is £168 million.

Typhoon future weapons

Maximum carriage will be 12 Brimstone 2 missiles.

Brimstone 2 is also expected to be integrated on the RAF’s new Protector RPAS, the certifiable Predator B.

Brimstone 2 will retain the three firing modes of previous iterations, from the datasheet;

Dual Mode: Semi-Active Laser (SAL) designation with Millimeter Wave Radar (MMW) handoff for targets that are difficult to laser designate, such as fast moving and manoeuvring targets and under narrow Rules of Engagement (ROE).

Single Mode: Semi-Active Laser (SAL)-only guidance all the way to the target for stationary and other targets that can be designated by laser effectively

A previously-developed fire-and-forget, the MMW-only mode can also be used with Brimstone 2 via a software role change. This mode provides through-weather targeting, kill box-based discrimination and salvo launch. It is highly effective against multi-target armour formations. Salvo-launched Brimstones self-sort based on firing order, reducing the probability of overkill for increased one-pass lethality.

The range of Brimstone is generally accepted to be approximately 20km, with Brimstone 2, again, generally accepted as approximately 20km. These are in situations where the missiles launch speed is augmented by the fast jets own speed, for rotary or ground platforms, the range will be reduced.

Future Attack Helicopter Weapon (FAHW)

A modification of Brimstone 2 was originally envisaged, building on the already achieved test firing and integration work with Boeing on the AH-64E.

MBDA’s proposed FAHW solution builds on the highly acclaimed Brimstone missile (98.7% effectiveness achieved during in-theatre operations) to specifically meet Attack Helicopter requirements by providing the operator with the ability to reliably and simply engage, in both direct and indirect fire modes, a wide range of target types with its multi-effect warhead.

Images and video below;

FAHW Images


Future Attack Helicopter and possibly, FAHW is clearly integrated with the Carrier Strike and Carrier Enabled Power Projection capabilities.

Brimstone 3

Brimstone 3 is a new build missile that incorporates all the previous spiral developments into a single consistent standard.

Ground launched options for Brimstone continue to be explored by MBDA

Including a version on the Ares variant of Ajax

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Change Status

Change Date Change Record
 30/04/2016 Initial issue
 29/07/2021 Update and format refresh 
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