The Brimstone missile, developed by the multi-national aerospace and defense agency MBDA, is being tested by the Royal Air Force at the U.S. Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake, California, before it is used to arm MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft, aka Predator B drones.
“Vital to our efforts to protect our forces and the people of Afghanistan, this battle-winning technology allows us to understand the situation on the ground more clearly, develop better intelligence, and precisely strike, within our rules of engagement, those who threaten or hurt the people we are protecting.” said the U.K.’s defense secretary Philip Hammond during the trials conducted earlier this year.
These dual-mode missiles are intended to replace the powerful but aging Hellfire design. The Brimstone project originally started out as a guidance package upgrade for the Hellfire missile but eventually called for a completely redesigned missile. Though the missiles look similar, as they’re intended to be launched from the same platforms, the Brimstone is all-new.
Dual-mode missiles feature laser guidance and millimeter-wave radar tracking systems, combining fire-and-forge and human-guided capabilities.
They are equipped with tandem shaped charges that can defeat reactive armor systems.
Early versions of the Brimstone have been in service with the RAF since 2005, and MBDA is currently working on a Brimstone system optimized for use against small sea craft and pirate ships called the Sea Spear.
Brimstone missiles are so accurate that they can be lethal even without warheads. They can hit a person-sized target from 20,000 feet up, seven miles away and have been tested on targets moving up to 70 miles per hour.
“In testing conducted at the US Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake, CA from December 2013 through January 2014, a Brimstone-equipped MQ-9 Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) scored nine direct hits against stationary and maneuvering targets traveling at speeds as fast as 70 MPH, while launching from up to 7 miles away at altitudes as high as 20,000 feet — realistic ‘middle of the envelope’ shot profiles,” explains military website Funker530.
Another reason these missiles are popular with the RAF is that they’re home-grown. The Brimstone missiles are made by the U.K. branch of MBDA and not by Lockheed Martin who makes the Hellfires.
Despite their outstanding performance there is still quite a bit of support in the continued use Hellfire missiles with the RAF’s MQ-9 Reapers and the the Brimstone isn’t going to completely replace the older missile system.
“No decision has been taken to integrate Brimstone on to [the] UK Reaper,” said the U.K.’s ministry of defense to Flightglobal, adding that “no decision on future trials has been made.”
But there’s no doubting the performance benefits. In testing, the Brimstone missile doubled the Reaper’s engagement range and delivered unmatched accuracy against all targets.
The Brimstone missile is being used in the field today, in a limited role. Based on its performance MBDA has begun development on the Brimstone 2 which they expect to see fielded next year along with an updated Sea Spear missile.