The RAF describe Brimstone as;
Brimstone is currently integrated with the Tornado and soon to be integrated on Typhoon. Future plans also include Apache with some potential for Reaper/Protector in the future. F-35B integration was dropped some time ago in favour of SPEAR Capability 3.
Brimstone 2 has now entered service.
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 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;
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. Typhoon 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.
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.
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, derived from the Hughes Hellfire.
Thomson-Thorn entered a modified version of the BL755 called the 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.
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;
In 2003, technical problems and launch aircraft availability delayed the in-service date;
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.
A subsequent 2010 Parliamentary answer revealed the development costs of Brimstone and Dual Mode Brimstone
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 itself 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.
300 first generation Brimstones were converted as part of the UOR (although 500 have now been delivered) with development costs in the order of £10 million. The Dual Mode modifications include a semi-active laser (SAL) seeker head and changes to the software, but it retains the radar guidance capability.
Brimstone was intended to be integrated with Harrier, in 2007, a number of initial handling trials were completed.
Harrier received operational emergency clearance for Baseline Brimstone but NOT Dual Mode Brimstone.
Brimstone entered service with the RAF on the Tornado GR.4.
The first operational sortie with a Dual Mode Brimstone was by the RAF in Iraq on 18th December 2008 and the first operational firing took place in June 2009 in Afghanistan. Although integration efforts had continued with Harrier, the deployment of Tornado to Afghanistan meant the urgency was removed and plans were postponed until the planned insensitive variant was available, by then, SDSR 2010 had withdrawn the Harrier fleet.
In 2011 the Dual Mode Brimstone was selected as the basis for the Selected Precision Effects at Range (SPEAR) Capability 2 requirement.
Selected Precision Effects at Range, or SPEAR, is an RAF programme that is part of the 2010 Team Complex Weapons enabling contract that comprises a number of requirements and partners including Thales, MBDA, and Roxel among others.
SPEAR Capability 2 comprises a number of blocks;
- SPEAR Capability 2 Block 1 (Demonstration & Manufacture) was to replace the energetics (rocket motor and warhead) with insensitive systems and a new airframe for the Dual Mode variants in service.
- SPEAR Capability 2 Block 2 (now Spiral Development) (Assessment Phase)
- SPEAR Capability 2 Block 3, this will be the replacement for all variants of Brimstone.
Capability 2 Block 2 was cancelled.
Brimstone 2 will replace both the legacy single mode Brimstone and Dual Mode Brimstone obtained under UOR for Afghanistan. It will incorporate a number of improvements including an insensitive warhead and rocket motor, double the range, better accuracy, a modular airframe and software enhancements. The modular design will also improve access to critical components for easier maintenance.
During the development of Brimstone 2, a number of technical issues were encountered. Propellant cracking and liner de-bonding on the Roxel Vulcan rocket motor were discovered in January 2012. This created a number of delays in the development programme that necessitated the need for an additional purchase of non-insensitive Dual Mode Brimstone missiles.
MBDA completed firing trials at NAS China Lake of Dual Mode Brimstone from an MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft in 2014. Nine direct hits against nine targets were achieved, the targets representing manoeuvring vehicles. Flight profiles for the Reaper were approximately 20,000ft altitude with targets 7-12km away.
In September 2014, seeker trials took place for Brimstone 2 in the USA. With the rocket motor issues resolved further trials resulted in a number of warhead failures.
Manufacture was suspended and development extended.
In May 2016, Jane’s reported that Brimstone 2 had completed its Tornado operational evaluation trials.
In July 2016, Brimstone 2 entered service with the RAF’s Tornado fleet.
As the Typhoon Project Centurion progresses, Brimstone 2 will also enter service on that aircraft as part of the Phase Three Enhancement (P3E) capability in 2018. First live firings are scheduled for 2017.
Brimstone is not planned to be integrated with the UK’s F-35B fleet.
Brimstone 2 has also been proposed for the Army Air Corp’s new fleet of AH-64E Apache attack helicopters. Test firings were successfully made in in July 2016
The MBDA press release;
Leonardo also showed their AW-149 helicopter fitted with Brimstone missiles at the 2016 Farnborough International Airshow
Brimstone 2 will be integrated with Tornado and Typhoon, but not F-35B. It may also be considered as a replacement for Hellfire II on Apache in a posts 2020 period.
Building on AH-64E integration, MBDA have also proposed a variant of Brimstone 2 called Future Attack Helicopter Weapon, click here to view the brochure.
In March 2017 MBDA released a progress update on Brimstone integration with Typhoon.
Commenting on the continuing trials work, Steve Formoso (BAE Systems Military Air & Information Chief Test Pilot) said:
The trials were carried out with Instrumented Production Aircraft (IPA) 6.
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 in Iraq and Syria.
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 the 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.
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.
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.
Fitting the three round launcher to helicopters, naval vessels, and costal defence sites has also be studied.
Brimstone is 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
Despite the initial problems, the new rocket motor is a significant achievement.
The insensitive warhead is from TDW
Brimstone 2 will be integrated with Typhoon in the P3E series of enhancements that will also include Storm Shadow integration, all managed under Project CENTURION to be completed by 2018.
The cost of Brimstone/Typhoon integration alone is £168 million.
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)
Although Future Attack Helicopter Weapon appears to be in brochure form only, it would appear to be some modification of Brimstone 2, building on the already achieved test firing and integration work with Boeing on the AH-64E.
Images and video below;
Future Attack Helicopter and possibly, FAHW are clearly integrated with the Carrier Strike and Carrier Enabled Power Projection capabilities