UK Complex (Guided) Weapons – Reference

From Brimstone to Storm Shadow, complex weapons form the core of UK military capability.

The term ‘Complex Weapon’ can include a number of different types but as a convenient shorthand, they can be thought of as guided rockets and missiles.

Missiles and guided bombs are defined by a number of characteristics;

  • Range
  • Guidance
  • Launch platform and environment
  • Target effects

A missile used to destroy small fast attack craft e.g. Sea Skua, has very different characteristics to that of a penetrating cruise missile e.g. Storm Shadow. This may seem obvious but it is a good shorthand for describing the systems.

Range allows the launch platform to stand off beyond enemy air defences or observation. The recent trend to target effects has been to reduce, smaller warheads and more precision strike fit within evolving laws of armed concept interpretation.

A large warhead can still be important, especially for penetrating hard targets such as bunkers or aircraft shelters. Main in the loop guidance is another increasingly important factor in modern weapons, being able to break off an attack at the last minute has proven to provide attacking forces with a valuable means of reducing civilian deaths.

Launch platform can have a large influence on costs, helicopter launch, for example, is much less demanding than a fast jet.

All these factors interplay to define individual systems in response to requirements.

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Complex Weapons Industry

For the UK defence industry, complex weapons are delivered by a number of manufacturers but the specific Complex Weapons Portfolio means MBDA (owned by BAE, EADS and Finmeccanica (Leonardo)) and Thales.

Following the 2005 Defence Industrial Strategy, in 2006, a new approach to managing the design, development, manufacture and through-life support was announced that would adopt a collaborative partnership, with MBDA and the MoD as the lead. Other partners in the team were Thales, Roxel and Qinetiq.

This arrangement was intended to maintain sovereign industrial capabilities by providing a predictable requirements roadmap. It was a smart move by the MoD and manufacturers and one which I don’t think they get enough credit for. In moving outside of the old-fashioned adversarial supplier-customer arrangement and towards a portfolio partnership it has provided an environment where innovation can be accommodated and the adverse effects of feast and famine reduced dramatically. In return for this assured workstream, industry would commit to a large block of efficiency savings over the initial ten-year timespan.

In 2010, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) signed a long-term partnering agreement with MBDA called the Initial Portfolio Management Agreement (PMA-I).

Key objectives of the portfolio partnership were a desire to maximise commonality, promote reuse of subcomponents, reduce development times improve collaboration with European partners. The agreement covered a spend of approximately £600m per annum.

Non-MBDA/Thales weapons were not included in the portfolio agreements, the Raytheon Paveway IV, Boeing Tomahawk cruise or Hellfire missiles for example. It also excluded infantry weapons such as Javelin and NLAW. This approach was perhaps due to industrial and sovereignty concerns but by putting Raytheon and Boeing ‘outside the tent’ the desired end to end capability management and cost advantages may not have been fully realised.

The portfolio approach was also intended to reduce single service focussed programmes that produce anomalies like RAF Harrier GR.3 rockets and RN Sea Harrier rockets not being interchangeable in 1982. These lessons were not learned by the time Brimstone was introduced but hopefully, SPEAR CAP 3 will have driven out this, frankly, nonsensical situation.

The Complex Weapons portfolio has seen increasing industrial consolidation and integration, indeed, this was one of the fundamental objectives of the portfolio approach. With increasing UK-French defence cooperation, complex weapons have also taken on a more UK/France focus.

The creation of MBDA came from a need to reduce the numerous missile vendors;

MBDA was created in December 2001 following the merger of the main missile systems companies in France, Italy and the United Kingdom. Each of these companies contributed the experience gained from fifty years of technological and operational success. The restructuring of the sector in Europe took its next step in March 2006 with the acquisition of LFK-Lenkflugkörpersysteme GmbH, the German missile subsidiary of EADS (now AIRBUS Group). This further enriched MBDA’s range of technologies and products, consolidating the Group’s world-leading position in the industry.

The diagram below shows the timeline.

MBDA-European-Company-2016It is jointly owned by BAE (37.5%), Airbus Group (37.5%) and Leonardo (25%)

In December 2015, as follow up from the 2010 Lancaster House agreements, France and the UK jointly signed contracts for the development of the Sea Venom missile that will replace Sea Skua in both nation’s armouries. Of more interest was confirmation that work would continue with the creation of a number of ‘Centres of Excellence’.

  • France; weapon controllers and test equipment
  • UK; datalinks and actuators

These four will be followed by locations for complex warheads, guidance and navigation systems, algorithms and software.

Complex Weapons Research

Extended to 2018, the Materials and Components for Missiles, Innovation and Technology Partnership (MCM ITP) is a joint UK/FRA research fund that feeds into the complex weapons pipeline. The funding is aimed at low Technology Level Readiness concepts, between 3 and 4, and organised into eight domains with each having a lead company;

  • Systems, Concepts and Navigation; MBDA, UK
  • RF Seekers; Thales Optronic, FR
  • Infra-Red Sensors; Selex ES, UK
  • Rocket Propulsion; Roxel, FR
  • Turbojet Propulsion; Safran Microturbo, FR
  • Warheads; QinetiQ (and Nexter), UK
  • SAUs and Fuzes; Thales Missile Electronics, UK
  • Materials and Electronics; MBDA, FR

The budget is a modest €13 million per annum but the programme has delivered some excellent research outcomes, all feeding into the complex weapon pipeline.


Complex Weapons Programmes

The Selective Precision Effects at Range (SPEAR) programme emerged around 2006 9although internal work had started before that) as a means of defining a number of air-launched weapons as part of the Complex Weapons portfolio. The weapons will be air-launched stand-off weapons that can be used against a wide range of stationary and moving targets in day or night, and with the ability to defeat countermeasures.

It is defined as;

Selective Precision Effects at Range (SPEAR) is the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) research and development request for highly accurate, beyond visual range re-targetable weapons which can receive target information updates over a data-link (network) in near real-time as part of the UK’s Network Enabled Capability (NEC)

SPEAR has been split into a number of capability numbers that have evolved since then.

SPEAR Capability 1; Raytheon Paveway IV precision-guided bomb and subsequent improvements to include reduced collateral and penetrator warhead and enhanced capability against moving targets.

SPEAR Capability 2; a 50kg class powered missile, eventually Block 3, Brimstone 2

SPEAR Capability 3; a longer range 100kg class weapon with the ability to be re-targeted in flight using two-way datalinks. There was some talk of using a derivative of FASGW(H) but this has evolved separately.

SPEAR Capability 4; upgrades to Storm Shadow to sustain it to the OSD

SPEAR Capability 5; longer range replacement for Storm Shadow

The UK has a long track record with guided weapons, as I am sure we all know, the world’s first practical guided weapon, the Brennan Torpedo, was operated by men of the Royal Engineers.


Outside of the formal complex weapons partnering arrangement there are also a number of programmes that will be included in this reference guide.

Table of Contents

RN TLAM 4 Introduction
MBDA Brimstone layout on Tornado Brimstone
MBDA SPEAR 3 Image 2 SPEAR Capability 3
RAF Tornado GR4's at RAF Akrotiri Cyprus being armed with the Paveway IV Laser Guided Bomb. Paveway IV
Tornado Storm Shadow Storm Shadow
Royal Navy Submarine HMS Astute Fires a Tomahawk Cruise Missile (TLAM) During Testing Near the USA Tomahawk
FASGW(H) Missile Sea Venom
Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM) Martlet (Lightweight Multirole Missile)
HMS Montrose fires Harpoon Harpoon
F-35 UK Weapons Trials November 2014 ASRAAM & PAVEWAY IV shot 2 ASRAAM
RAF Typhoon Aircraft Carrying Meteor Missiles Meteor BVRAAM
Soldier Mans Starstreak HVM High Velocity Missile System During Exercise Olympic Guardian for London 2012 Starstreak HVM
Sea Ceptor missile system FLAADS(M) Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM)
Sea Viper HMS Defender Type 45 Live Fire Sea Viper/ASTER
Fire Shadow Loitering Munition Fire Shadow Loitering Munition
The final pre-acceptance trial of the GMLRS (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System) at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, USA. Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS)
Spike NLOS Tracked Vehicle Exactor (SPIKE NLOS)
Pictured are elements of the Manoeuvre Support Group MSG from 42 Commando Royal Marines, based at Bickleigh Barracks Plymouth, whilst conducting live firing of the new Light Forces Anti-Tank Guided Weapon (LFATGW) Javelin. 42 Commando Royal Marines were the first UK Armed Force to live fire the new Javelin system. The live fire demonstration was an early opportunity to see the Javelin being live fired in the UK. The future reliance on simulation,rather than live firing will mean that a demonstration such as this will be a rare event in the UK during the service life of the system. This image was submitted as part of the Peregrine 06 Photographic Competition. This image is available for non-commercial, high resolution download at subject to terms and conditions. Search for image number 45145988.jpg ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Photographer: PO (PHOT) Sean Clee Image 45145988.jpg from Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Weapon (ATGW)
NLAW Training Aid Next Generation Light Anti-Armour Weapon (NLAW)
Raytheon Defender Laser CIWS Lasers
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May 13, 2016 2:54 pm

Great work as always

stephen duckworth
May 13, 2016 7:04 pm

Read it all (so far) and a brilliant series ,stripping out the jargon and actually explaining the acronyms that are all to often banded about by commentators which are obvious to them but to us laymen baffeling (even your friendly google is stumped most times).
Once again brilliant :-)

May 13, 2016 10:31 pm

Reading about starstreak very interesting . Does anyone know what became of seastreak . Has it every been deployed?

May 14, 2016 1:09 pm

Outstanding, TD! Illuminating and diverting as always.

May 14, 2016 1:15 pm

I’ve been slowly going through the series this far, excellent quality as always!

May 14, 2016 7:49 pm

Seastreak was a proposal and never found any orders, so no deployment.

May 14, 2016 9:00 pm

Thanks for follow up.
It seemed quite a compact inexpensive standalone system that could easily be Bolted On to even a small vessel in time of crisis. Obvious limitations in range however good against helos and aircraft . But missiles would perhaps be more of a challenge.

May 14, 2016 9:16 pm

Agreed. It seems another of those UK systems that are genuinely world beating that we just haven’t followed through on all the way. Of course it may be that there just wasn’t the interest, but it does seem that we don’t seem to take the punt as often as we should. Another option would be the MSI Seahawk Sigma that TD has mentioned before: 30 mm cannon and 7 LMM/Starstreak alongside. It seems a bit of a no-brainer, as it uses a mount, gun and missile already in RN service, pretty much any RN or RFA could then credibly deal with FIAC and Air threats. With the addition of a small radar it would be a pretty good CIWS.

May 14, 2016 10:07 pm

Seems a pretty good combination .
And cost effective . Saves overlkill and expense of using a harpoon to sink a speedboat or aster 30 to shoot down a low threat aircraft.
Agree can easily be added to RN / RFA vessel.

May 15, 2016 6:04 pm

Umm, should Trident be on the list?

May 16, 2016 10:51 am

No articles on Spearfish or Stingray?

May 18, 2016 12:13 pm

@TD or anyone else who could enlighten me

We spend all that money on designing/building a platform to fire a weapon and all that money on developing/building said weapon to be used from a platform. Why then does it cost so much to put the two together or integrate them? Am i missing something or is someone pulling a fast one.

May 19, 2016 6:56 pm

I am looking forward to Exactor, arguably one of the most illusive, politically sensitive and secretive weapon systems fielded by the British armed forces.

May 20, 2016 3:55 am

Excellent series – many thanks

shark bait
May 20, 2016 10:24 am

I’ll second that! full of quality info.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
May 22, 2016 11:57 am

Very good series!

May 29, 2016 10:12 am

Another good series TD and as always am eagerly awaiting the ‘hare brained schemes’.

scott ryan
scott ryan
June 12, 2016 12:16 pm

Yep and the Taliban can use a magnetic wave detector to kill all troops looking for weapons.

Hook it up to the high level and when they magnetic wave reached that level bar, it blows up.

Same goes for waves that penetrate the ground.

scott ryan
scott ryan
June 12, 2016 12:28 pm

Iraq war cover up. Walks like poof so CIA sabotaged his strategies and bankrupt their county in a deal, within weeks of handing the Taliban the drone camera codes. Also broke the deal many times.

oblique weapons on fb.

oblique weapons on russian fb page

June 12, 2016 3:19 pm

Where’s HoHum when you need him? I think we have a genuine Putinbot on our hands…

The Other Nick
The Other Nick
July 18, 2016 5:00 pm

DefenseNews reporting Israeli failure to shoot down a Syrian UAV over Israel on the Golan Heights despite launching two Patriot anti-air missiles and F-16. As Israel reputed to be the most professional and experienced operator using the upgraded Patriot PAC-2 am intrigued and wondering what could be the reason of failure of a relatively modern AAM to intercept a UAV.

July 18, 2016 7:15 pm

A short video which presents the Franco-Italian Aster 30 in service with the French army.

July 18, 2016 8:16 pm

Nick, ,probably going too low/too small for a proper shot. Nothing in real life says you will always hit what you shoot at. :)

The Other Nick
The Other Nick
July 21, 2016 5:36 pm

A Harpoon Blk 1C launched from a canister on the LCS trimaran USS Coronado failed to hit its target a decommissioned OHP class 4,100 ton frigate at 20 nm during the RIMPAC exercise off Hawaii last Tuesday.

October 18, 2016 10:44 am

Slightly controversial at the moment but encouraging to see exported UK complex weapons in use. I wonder if there would be any use in re-introducing ALARM to the RAF inventory. We don’t seem to need it for sandpit wars at the moment but would it be of any use against Russian AAA/AD?

The Other Chris
October 19, 2016 8:43 am

The UK is taking the sensing and geo-positioning route with regards SEAD rather than radiation homing and position memory: Sensing and deploying the SPEAR weapons, in particular SPEAR 3 has been pencilled in for this.

It makes the likes of Sentinel and the multi-spectral upgrades to that platform really important.

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