The future's bright for Brimstone
22 March 2012
After successful deployment in Libya last year, interest in the Brimstone missile is growing, as MBDA UK Ltd's Cliff Kimpton tells DMJ editor Anthony Hall…
The use of the Brimstone missile by the RAF's 906 Expeditionary Air Wing during Operation Ellamy in 2011 won plaudits for the degree of targeting accuracy and the precision of their strikes. Delivered by the Tornado GR4s, the success of Brimstone in anger kick-started a reassessment of the use of close air support complex weapons that showed the capability to be as relevant now as when threat assessments focused on Soviet tanks and the Fulda Gap.
Developed originally by GEC Marconi (subsequently known as Alenia Marconi Systems) for the MoD in the late 1990s, the contract passed to MBDA through a merger in 2001, and it was MBDA that saw Brimstone into production in 2004 with operational capability on the GR4 delivered a year later. In 2007 a UOR was issued as the need to reduce secondary damage and civilian casualties during counter-insurgency created the need for a new type of targeting system that gave the missile greater degrees of accuracy and a more clearly defined role for 'a man in the loop' to reduce targeting error. This would become Dual Mode Brimstone (DMB). Originally deployed in Iraq in 2008, DMB began service in Afghanistan in 2009 with GR4 Tornados at Kandahar.
Speaking to DMJ editor Anthony Hall, MBDA's Cliff Kimpton, market development executive for Brimstone, explains how the two missiles differ. The original weapon – the missile MBDA refers to as Millimetric Brimstone – was designed to be fired in salvo using a single mode guidance system: a millimetric wave sensor ideal for targeting massed formations of moving vehicles. The second generation Brimstone, he says, has extra capabilities. "The Dual Mode has proven to be a very selective and very high-precision system that is actually operated in much tighter forms of engagement – useful in areas where there could be collateral damage."
This has been achieved, according to Kimpton, by introducing an extra targeting mode, "a semi-active laser to locate your target, and then the millimetric side of things on the end game". The incorporation of the laser, he says, has "led to reasonably sized changes to the missile's electrical and mechanical systems", but the way the Dual Mode operates "has been the biggest change". As far as flying out from the aircraft, Kimpton explains that "the single mode could be deployed at very low levels in volleys but has also been cleared for release at higher altitude to maximise stand-off range". Dual Mode, meanwhile, "would usually be used as single shots and typically they would be launched from a height that is safe against small arms fire whilst still allowing visual confirmation under strict Rules of Engagement [ROE]".
Coming in from on high on a more ballistic route makes the most efficient use of the laser spot, locking on to target with an impact angle ideally at over 45 degrees. "You could fire at a fairly low level," says Kimpton, "but the way the systems are designed to operate is to really hone in on that laser spot and to do that effectively it is good to have some altitude."
Using the LITENING II Targeting Pod on the GR4, the DMB can be launched from the aircraft and directed from there, when, Kimpton explains, "at a point in time there will be a handover to the millimetric that will then guide it down to target". There is no need, he stresses, for a man on the ground to light up the target: Brimstone aircraft and missiles can do it themselves.
Although Ellamy saw the use of the DMB as early as 26th March, shortly before NATO took charge of the no-fly-zone, Millimetric Brimstone was also employed, being fired for the first time in combat during an attack by two GR4s on 15 September during which 22 missiles – including a single salvo of 12 from one aircraft – were launched on pro-Gaddafi armour near Sebha, 400 miles south of Tripoli.
As Kimpton says, the way that Brimstone came into its own in Libya should not lead to the assumption that the system can only function at its optimum in clear desert conditions. "As far as you can easily distinguish what is a target and what isn't, the system can operate well anywhere," he reveals. This is where the distinguishing characteristics between the Dual Mode and legacy missiles are most in evidence. Millimetric Brimstone, he explains, "is not affected by cloud or dust" and operates well in less than perfect conditions. In comparison, the Dual Mode, "where you are actually looking to stop the target, if the target is obscure then you will have to deal with it in another way".
The response to Brimstone in light of Ellamy has been very positive. "I think I am right in saying the missile has been really well received by the RAF," says Kimpton. "It has achieved mission effectiveness of over 98 per cent, which is a really impressive statistic." It has also given the RAF a lot of confidence to use the system.
The fact that it can fix on manoeuvring targets and on very small targets at range, and with high precision hit a target with low collateral damage, has made an important statement internationally, Kimpton believes. "It is obvious to other militaries that the RAF is employing and using a system that no-one else has got...DMB gives operators a flexibility and precision to engage targets within strict ROE that would forfeit the use of other weapons."
The missile's operational capabilities had proved themselves and secured Brimstone's future even before Ellamy, with contracts for Brimstone 2 – a new variant – signed in March 2010. While the Dual Mode was very much a UOR upgrade of the legacy missile, Kimpton reveals that "now we are looking to do a new build" to include work on the warhead and motor.
Delivery of Brimstone 2 is due within the next two years. Work is also going ahead to integrate the missile onto other fixed-wing platforms such as Typhoon, as well as onto helicopters and UAVs. Meanwhile, the missile's ability to provide highly accurate salvo attacks has recommended it as a maritime weapon of close defence against swarming, fast inshore attack craft, and live fire trials in cooperation with the MoD will take place this year.
HAVE YOUR SAY
22 March 2012
This is very exciting and could be a very good answer to the swarm attacks less powerful nations will use. More exciting is the fact that it is a relatively cheap missile and so could be used on the future MHCP class with Sea ceptor to provide a reasonable medium end weapon lay out at low cost Nd good flexibility
Anthony - Bristol, United Kingdom
23 March 2012
Brimstone 2 "now we are looking to do a new build" to include work on the warhead and motor = shaped charge warhead = EU long range Hellfire replacement. Nice.
AW Employee - Yeovil
23 March 2012
Perhaps another way to enhance defences against fast inshore attack craft is Javelin which has proved very effective in Afghanistan. If any got passed a salvo of Brimstone then they may also get past the 4.5 inch gun. I don't know if CIWS systems are able to lock onto such craft but an operator with Javelin could use it's line of sight to effectively target such a craft.
Also a salvo of Brimstone missiles would saturate the defences of most vessels and inflict serious damage and sink smaller craft.
Graham - High Wycombe
23 March 2012
Graham, I'm reasonably sure that if small vessels got past Brimstone then Phalanx 1B and the optically operated CIGs as well as ships gunners with GPMGs and Miniguns would effectively handle them.
Anthony - Bristol, United Kingdom