Fire Shadow Loitering Munition

Fire Shadow was a precise loitering munition developed by MBDA for the British Army that did not enter service and has effectively now been cancelled

Fire Shadow was described by MBDA as;

Fire Shadow provides a precision capability to engage high value targets in complex scenarios. Surface launched, the munitions have a range of ~100 km and can conduct a direct transit to target or be positioned to loiter in the airspace for a significant time (~ 6 hours). A Man-In-The-Loop decision then enables a precise and rapid attack against a selected target.

You will note the use of the word was, this is because Fire Shadow has effectively been cancelled.

Fire Shadow trial March 2012

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.

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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.

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BLADE Loitering

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BLADE Launcher

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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

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Fire Shadow Image 2

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Fire Shadow Image 1

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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 project will deliver 25 safe and useful munitions in March 2012 (50%). These will form a start-up capability for current operations.


MPR 2012 definition: These definitions are not applicable yet given the incremental acquisition approach. In Service Date and Initial Operating Capability would likely occur in later increments and be subject to definition and approvals at an appropriate time. However, an initial batch of weapons systems was delivered, on time, in March 2012.

These were demonstrated in June 2012 and while the success rate was lower than desired, performance of the hardware met the Loitering Munition key performance measures.

Reason for change: The Senior Responsible Owner took a decision not to deploy the weapon for testing in Afghanistan as the capability was not sufficiently mature. It could therefore not meet its In-Service Date for use in Afghanistan so it has been re-defined

Full Operating Capability requirement under revision as part of wider Indirect  Fire Precision Attack Programme. The incremental approach has delivered an End- to- End Capability Demonstration which was successful in yielding information and understanding that will be used to inform Departmental planning on the way forward, not just in relation to Loitering Munition, but the whole Indirect Fire Precision Attack Project.

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.

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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 also makes use of the VCS-4586 software suite from CDL and a data link from Ultra

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Fire Shadow Image 3

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VCS4586 Software - Fire Shadow

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Fire Shadow Image 4

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Fire Shadow Loitering Munition

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Fire Shadow Loitering Munition

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Fire Shadow Image 5

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Fire Shadow Loitering Munition

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Fire Shadow is also dimensionally compatible with the SYLVER vertical launch silo.

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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shark bait
May 21, 2016 5:25 pm

I really never understood the concept, unless it’s recoverable it’s an efficient way of blowing up lost of expensive equipment.

As far as I can tell it doesn’t have much of an advantage over GMLRS. I feel like dropping this one was the correct choice.

May 21, 2016 7:18 pm

The thing that always puzzled me about it is what happens if you fire it an don’t find a target? How much are you limited by having to declare a “safe area” or remain within diversion range of one.
Flying a RPAS carrying weapons over civilian population is one thing (and a challenging one at that). Flying one that is itself an armed (as in active) missile? Dicey, I would have thought.
In addition, how do you do a battle damage assessment? You’ve just suicided your view point, unless you always have two up.
About the only thing it has in its favour is its reaction time at extreme range. Which you compromise by signalling your intent by putting one up in the first place, and the transit time will be looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooing.

May 22, 2016 5:02 am

It sounds nice, but the British Army stuck to GMLRS (shorter range, big effect) and now has Exactor (shorter range for sure, less collateral damage?)

May 22, 2016 6:00 am

But the SRO responsibility states

“Indirect Fire, Precision Attack in service date”

So is Fire Shadow still on the drawing board?

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
May 22, 2016 12:24 pm

In addition to all the points made below, the datalink would surely have been a prime target for enemy jamming and/or long range artillery attack against the ground antenna vs a peer opponent. If you’re not up against a peer opponent, the systems we have in service, plus the possibility of weaponising Watchkeeper make for a more economical solution. What I find worrying though was the announcement that our GMLRS stocks would be reduced to a level of 1200 rounds because Fireshadow would take over much of its role. Now that Fireshadow is not going to happen. I hope this decision has been rescinded and reevaluated.

Mike W
May 23, 2016 11:20 am

Without wishing to open up the whole Fire Shadow debate again, could I just mention that the loitering munition concept appears to have some use.

A weapon called the Switchblade is in service with both the US Army and US Marines. As far as I understand it, it is defined as a loitering munition rather than a drone. It is obviously designed for infantry use, being only about two feet long and weighing around 6 pounds and being able to be carried in a backpack. It has been designed to provide lethal precision firepower for infantry platoons and has proved highly successful, the American military having ordered more. It apparently can change or abort a mission if the situation alters after launch, allowing it to engage a secondary target or destroy itself without inflicting casualties. So it causes minimal collateral damage.

If Fire Shadow is cancelled, would a smaller weapon such as the above be useful in
UK service?

May 28, 2016 12:58 am

Like the other reasonably long range precision munitions used by RA, targeting is also a RA responsibility, a regular army battery that was formed many years ago (c.1983) to do much the same job as the HAC, They demonstrated their precision targeting capabilities on various occasions in Afg, including dropping a GMLRS down a manhole into one of the big underground canals. That said UAVs (also RA operated since 1964) are another source.

Brian Black
Brian Black
May 28, 2016 5:59 am

Hi, Mike. Switchblade might be officially defined as a loitering munition, but with only a ten minute endurance, it is unlikely to be launched without a clearly identified target. I’d say that “loitering munition” is something of a misnomer, with not a lot of loitering actually done in operation.

There have been lots of cases of Javelin being used as a sniper weapon against personnel targets from British Army platoon outposts. I’d imagine that Switchblade costs less than a Javelin missile, and is more appropriate as a precision anti-personnel weapon in such applications.

Brian Black
Brian Black
May 28, 2016 6:13 am

Surely you could bolt LMM onto Watchkeeper and loiter for longer (+10 hours) at greater range (+50km).

Watchkeeper has better sensors than Fire Shadow, including SAR – which you can afford when you’re bringing them back.

I expect the decisions to keep Exactor and to buy twice as many new Predator Protectors for the RAF are tied in with the decision to kill off Fire Shadow. The thing is left filling too small a niche; not worth the bother.

shark bait
May 28, 2016 9:50 am

I would agree with that logic, it doesn’t offer any substantially different capabilities, the money would be better spent elsewhere, such as UAV’s and LLM, or GMLRS Extended range

Mike W
May 28, 2016 2:35 pm

Hello Brian

Yes, I saw the flight endurance figure for Switchblade, only ten minutes, which, as you say, is not long.

However one of the main problems for British troops in Afghanistan was Taliban ambushes. Knowing the terrain well, the enemy could often escape often escape before a counter-attack could be launched. Air support often takes quite a time before arriving, whereas Fire Shadow’s ability to ‘stooge’, or loiter above the troops, means that it could be guided onto a target within seconds. I think the Americans have found the same with Switchblade. Of course, Fire Shadow has a much longer endurance than the smaller weapon. It was originally intended to have an endurance of ten hours but it is now actually closer to six, I believe, while it waits for the enemy to appear.

It has an operating range of more than 150km and circular error of probability of less than 1 metre. It also features a ‘man in the loop’ operation so that the weapon always remains under the control of an operator who can divert the weapon at the last moment should, for example, civilians suddenly appear near the intended target. Would Watchkeeper armed with LMM or GMLRS have a similar capability? Cost is another factor. In one year of recent conflict about 250 precision-guided GMLRS rockets were fired, according to the MOD. At £60,000 a rocket that works out at £15million. MBDA were trying to get the cost of Fire Shadow down to something equivalent or even lower than the cost of a precision-guided rocket.

Yes, Fire Shadow does have the disadvantage of once being airborne, then being unable to return to base. If not used in action, it is brought down in a controlled crash after running out of fuel but that can take place in designated safe areas.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x