Brimstone (missile)

Brimstone is an air-launched ground attack missile developed by MBDA for Britain's Royal Air Force. It was originally intended for "fire-and-forget" use against mass formations of enemy armour, using a millimetric wave (mmW) active radar homing seeker to ensure accuracy even against moving targets. Experience in Afghanistan led to the addition of laser guidance in the dual-mode Brimstone missile, allowing a "spotter" to pick out specific targets when friendly forces or civilians were in the area. The tandem shaped charge warhead is much more effective against modern tanks than older similar weapons such as the AGM-65G Maverick, while the small blast area minimises collateral damage. Three Brimstones are carried on a launcher that occupies a single weapon station, allowing a single aircraft to carry many missiles.

After a protracted development programme, single-mode or "millimetric" Brimstone entered service with RAF Tornado aircraft in 2005, and the dual-mode variant in 2008. The latter has been extensively used in Afghanistan and Libya. An improved Brimstone 2 was expected to enter service in October 2012, but problems with the new warhead from TDW[4] and the ROXEL rocket motor put back the planned date to November 2015. MBDA is working on the targeting of swarms of small boats under the name Sea Spear. The RAF intend to fit Brimstone to their Eurofighter Typhoons, and planned to integrate it with their Harriers until they were withdrawn from service in 2010. MBDA is studying the use of Brimstone on ships, attack helicopters, UAVs, and from surface launchers; it will be integrated on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II when the F-35B enters British service. The United States, France and India have expressed interest in buying Brimstone for their aircraft, but Saudi Arabia is the only export customer as of 2015.

Brimstone (missile)
Class Missile
Type Air to Surface
Manufacturer MBDA
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 2005
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Saudi Arabia View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 2005 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
MBDA 1999 View

The missile was designed to meet the RAF's requirement for a long range anti-armour weapon, allowing strike aircraft to attack tanks and armoured vehicles at stand-off range, replacing the BL755 cluster bomb. This requirement was issued following an assessment of the British military's performance in the Gulf War. GEC-Marconi (whose missile interests now form part of MBDA) was originally awarded the contract on 7 November 1996.

The programme ended up nearly 3 years late. The first ground firing of the Brimstone missile occurred in August 1999, followed by the first air-launched firing from a Tornado GR4 in September 2000. Clearance of the missile was delayed by 12 months due to the unavailability of a Tornado trials aircraft, as the RAF chose instead to rush the development of the Storm Shadow air launched cruise missile ahead of the Iraq war, but another delay of 6 months resulted from redesigning the autopilot for safe release at higher speeds. Over 2,000 missiles were produced.

The original Brimstone could not be used in Afghanistan as the rules of engagement required a "man-in-the-loop". Under an Urgent Operational Requirement in 2008, modifications were made to the seeker and software of over 300 existing missiles to create Dual-Mode Brimstone. The new missiles can be laser guided according to the STANAG 3733 standard as well as retaining the millimetre wave seeker; the pilot can select either mode from the cockpit or use both simultaneously. Laser guidance allows specific enemy targets to be picked out in cluttered environments, the mmW radar ensures accuracy against moving target.

The development and procurement of the original single-mode missiles cost £370m, a figure inflated by accounting charges relating to the delays. The development of the dual-mode version cost an additional £10m. The The Daily Telegraph reports that the dual mode missiles cost £105,000, which is comparable to the cost of the AGM-65 Maverick; the MoD quote only a gross book value of £175,000, which includes development costs as well as the purchase cost of the missile. Upgrading a single-mode missile to dual mode costs between £35,000 and £45,000 plus VAT, depending on quantities ordered.

In March 2010 Brimstone was selected as the basis for the RAF's requirement under the Selective Precision Effects At Range (SPEAR) Capability 2 Block 1 programme. The Demonstration and Manufacture (D&M) contract will increase the missile's performance "significantly", and convert the warhead and rocket motor to use insensitive munitions. Brimstone 2 will have an improved seeker, a more modular design and improvements to airframe and software for "an overall increase in performance with improvements in range and engagement footprint", including a "more than 200% increase" in maximum range. A five-release test campaign in October 2013 culminated in a successful strike against a pickup truck travelling at 70 mph (110 km/h) in a cluttered road environment and Brimstone 2 is planned to enter service on the Tornado in November 2015.

At the same time MBDA were awarded an Assessment Phase contract for SPEAR Capability 3 (formerly SPEAR Drop 2). This is specified to have a range of at least 100km, however the UK MoD and MBDA believe that they can achieve over 120km (62+nm). The weapon will make substantial reuse of Brimstone modules. The 2 m (6.6 ft) weapon will fly at high-subsonic speed using a turbojet and wing kit, and will feature a multimode seeker with INS/GPS guidance and datalink. The assessment phase will conclude with flight trials in 2014 on Typhoon. The missile is set to use the same Hamilton Sundstrand TJ-150 turbojet as the JSOW-ER. MBDA have shown artwork of a four-missile launcher on a single Typhoon weapon station, and four will fit with a Meteor air-to-air missile in each internal weapons bay of the F-35B.

MBDA has started testing a maritime variant called Brimstone Sea Spear for use against swarms of small boats. On 25 June 2012 a Tornado GR4 dropped a prototype that hit and sank a 6-metre inflatable boat travelling at 20 kts in sea state 3. The following month MBDA said that a viable system could be offered "within months"; the initial focus is on deployment from fast jets and surface launchers, MBDA is marketing it in the Gulf for installation on vessels down to 15 m. On 29 May 2013, MBDA conducted a salvo firing of three millimetric wave operational Brimstone missiles, launched from a fixed offshore platform, against a simulated attack formation of five targets representing FIACs (Fast Inshore attack Craft). The successful test firing demonstrated Brimstone Sea Spear’s ability to strike numerous individual targets. During the test one of the targets, a 15-m craft, was travelling at 20 knots. The Sea Spear competed with the Raytheon Sea Griffin missile for integration onto American Littoral combat ships. The Navy instead selected the AGM-114L Hellfire as a stop-gap missile for the LCS.

Royal Air Force

In March 2005, Brimstone entered service with No. 31 Squadron RAF. Full Operational Capability (FOC) was declared for the Tornado GR4 in December 2005 The first operational sortie of dual-mode Brimstone was over Iraq as part of Operation TELIC on 18 December 2008 by a Tornado GR4 of IX(B) Squadron. It was first fired in combat in June 2009, the month that the Tornado GR4's of 12 Squadron arrived in Afghanistan as part of Operation HERRICK.

Brimstone was used extensively during Operation ELLAMY over Libya in 2011. According to a British Ministry of Defence News report, dated 26 March 2011, RAF Tornado GR4 aircraft launched several Brimstone missiles over the towns of Misrata and Ajdabiya destroying a total of five armoured vehicles belonging to the Gaddafi regime. Sixty Brimstone were fired in the first four weeks of the Libya campaign, out of 110 Brimstone fired in all operations up to that time. This prompted the MoD to ask MBDA to convert more missiles to the dual-mode version. 150 dual-mode missiles had been ordered in December 2010, but according to the Royal United Services Institute, stocks of usable dual-mode missiles fell to single figures at one stage of the Libya campaign. The 500th dual-mode Brimstone was delivered in March 2012, at which time over 200 had been fired in combat. The single-mode missile was not fired in combat until 15 September 2011 when a pair of RAF Tornado GR4 of IX(B) Squadron fired 22 missiles (including a salvo of 12 by one aircraft) against an armoured column near Sebha/Sabha, 400 miles south of Tripoli.

In September 2014, Tornado GR4 strike aircraft of No. 2 Squadron RAF began flying armed sorties over Iraq in support of Operation Shader, the UK's contribution to the US-led Military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. On September 30, the aircraft made their first airstrikes, engaging a heavy artillery position with a Paveway IV laser-guided bomb and an armed pickup truck with a Brimstone air-to-ground missile. Brimstone is the preferred weapon for these kinds of targets because it is the only air-launched low-fragmentation fire-and-forget weapon that is effective against moving targets that the allied inventory possesses.

Export sales

Around £10 million of Brimstones from the RAF stock were sold to the Royal Saudi Air Force for use on their Tornados. In April 2011, the RAF's Assistant Chief of the Air Staff Air vice-marshal Baz North reported that the missiles were "being sought by both the United States of America and the French" in the light of Brimstone's success in Libya. France's DGA procurement agency held meetings in late May 2011 to discuss a lightweight air-to-surface weapon for the Dassault Rafale; Stéphane Reb of the DGA would merely say that "Brimstone is a solution, but it's not the only option". In early 2014 the US Congress' House Armed Services Committee showed interest again in the missile; high-ranking members of the US armed services have stated they "like it" and if they do choose it they "need it out soon". The French Air Force were still thinking about a purchase in March 2012, with a prime consideration being lower collateral damage compared to the AASM. India has made a request for information about integrating Brimstone on their Sukhoi Su-30MKI fleet. MBDA hopes that firings conducted in the U.S. intended for the U.K. to test the feasibility of arming British General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper UAVs with the missile will persuade the U.S. military to purchase the Brimstone 2. In July 2014, it was revealed that the United States Navy was beginning environmental and integration analysis of the Dual Mode Brimstone for use on the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The United States Army also considered the Brimstone as "an option" in its Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) program, but selected Lockheed Martin's dual-mode seeker upgrade for the Hellfire missile.

Type Air-to-surface missile
Place of origin United Kingdom
Service history
In service 2005
Used by Royal Air Force
Royal Saudi Air Force
Wars Operation Telic
Operation Herrick
Operation Ellamy
Operation Shader
Production history
Designer GEC-Marconi
Designed 1996
Manufacturer MBDA (UK) Ltd, Lostock
Unit cost (Dual Mode Variant)
£175,000 inc development
Produced 1999
Variants Single mode
Dual Mode Sensor
Brimstone 2
Sea Spear
Weight 48.5 kg
Length 1.8 m
Diameter 17.8 cm
Warhead HEAT tandem warhead
Crush (impact) fuze
Engine Solid-fuel rocket
Brimstone I:
20+ km (12+ mi) from fixed wing, 12 km (7.5 mi) from rotor wing
Brimstone II:
60+ km (37+ mi) from fixed wing, 40+ km (25+ mi) from rotor wing
Speed Supersonic (~450m/s)
94 GHz millimetric wave Active radar homing and INS autopilot, dual-mode adds laser guidance
Accuracy = sub-1m CEP
Flight control surfaces
Tornado GR4
Typhoon (planned)
Ship (planned)

End notes