Fire Shadow Loitering Munition
Fire Shadow was described by MBDA as;
You will note the use of the word was, this is because Fire Shadow has effectively been cancelled.
I have included it in this series for completeness.
Fire Shadow Loitering Munition History
Loitering munitions are not a new concept, the IAI Harpy system was designed for the counter air defence role, its loitering capability allowed it to have utility against the simple anti-radiation missile counter of switching the radar off.
The MoD Loitering Munition Capability Demonstration (LMCD) Assessment surfaced in 2005 and attracted a number of bidders as part of the emergent Indirect Fire Precision Attack (IFPA) project.
BAE was awarded a £30m contract to manage the second phase of the LMCD to inform future developments of IFPA.
MBDA teamed up with IAI, Insys, QinetiQ and Cranfield University to offer a new and larger variant of the Harpy that replaced the passive radar detector with an electro-optical sensor, this was called White Hawk by MBDA or the Harop by everyone else.
Lockheed Martin proposed the Surveilling Miniature Attack cruise Missile (SMACM) that could be carried on the same BRU-61/B SDB carriage system from Cobham that is used on the F35 and F22.
Thales and Rheinmetall offered a variant of the TAIFUN UAV called Tactical Advanced Reconnaissance Strike System (TARES). The TARES had a loiter time of 4 hours and a maximum range of 200km.
The BLADE (Battlefield Loitering Artillery Direct Effect) was Ultra Electronics offering although this was based on the Israeli Sparrow-N UAV from UVision and the BLADE team included BAE, Lockheed Martin, Praxis and Raytheon.
Also in 2005, the MoD awarded a £8.4m contract to Systems Development to develop a loitering munition demonstrator. Systems Development then partnered with Blue Bear Research to produce a number of scale models and make use of the SNAP Autopilot system and other BRR capabilities.
Despite this £38.4 million ground work, the MoD decided none of this system met its requirements. In 2007, another specification was defined and instead of evaluating off the shelf models Fire Shadow would be a new development.
In 2008 the Assessment Phase was let that covered Fire Shadow, in addition to the other projects with the Complex Weapons portfolio. This evolved over the following couple of years and in 2010, the Interim Portfolio Management Agreement was agreed, still with Fire Shadow in it. Both it and Spear Capability 2 Block 1 are included in the Interim Main Gate 1 Demonstration and Manufacture phase, between them, authorised for £249m.
The FireShadow development consortium included MBDA, Blue Bear Systems Research, Cranfield Aerospace, Cranfield University, Lockheed Martin UK INSYS, Marshalls SV, Meggitt, QinetiQ, Roxel, Selex Galileo, Thales UK, Ultra Electronics and VEGA.
Fire Shadow was fully test fired at the Vidsel range in Sweden at the end of 2010 with another in early 2011 although there had been a series of other test firings from 2008. In 2011, MBDA showed off a maritime Fire Shadow concept
The intent for an Early Capability (EC) trial in Afghanistan in 2012 was also announced in 2011
The National Audit Office (NAO) Major Projects Report 2012 indicated a change in the original Initial Operating Capability;
The experience gained from the small batch of systems delivered will be used to inform ‘futures’ and the Indirect Fire Precision Attack (IFPA) capability which I think we all know what that means.
MBDA delivered to their agreement, the MoD said thank you very much and that seemed to be that.
Although nothing has been formally released, reading between the lines I think the demise of Fire Shadow is a combination of the end of operations in Afghanistan, competing priorities, confused concept of operations, issues regarding airspace management (especially linked to the Royal Artillery’s well publicised at the time issues in this area) and the fact that driving very expensive sensors into the ground at very high speed, regardless of there being a target to drive it into, was always going to be a tough sell.
Fire Shadow Loitering Munition Capabilities
The Fire Shadow Loitering Munition is 4m long and weighs just under 200kg, cruising at up to 300kph up to 15,000ft.
It is launched using a booster rocket motor which rapidly falls away and allows the sustain engine to start. Using a Selex imaging sensor it transmits images back to a control location. When a suitable target is identified the munition is simply flown onto it and the warhead initiates.
One key aspect of the design is the lack of a return path, once fired, it has to be expended by either flying it onto a target or a safe area.
Fire Shadow is also dimensionally compatible with the SYLVER vertical launch silo.