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Brimstone

Anti-tank guided missile

Brimstone missile

The Brimstone is an air-to-ground anti-tank missile derived from the AGM-114 Hellfire, but tailored especially for use by fixed-wing aircraft

 
 
Model Brimstone Dual-Mode Brimstone Brimstone 2
Country of origin United Kingdom
Entered service 2005 2008 2016
Armor penetration ~ 700 mm
Missile length 1.8 m
Missile diameter 0.18 m
Missile weight 48.5 kg ~ 48.5 kg 52.7 kg
Warhead weight 6.3 kg
Warhead type Tandem HEAT
Range of fire 8-20 km 8-20 km 40-60 km
Guidance Active radar Active radar and semi-active laser
Launch platforms Tornado IDS (current), Typhoon (future)

 

   The Brimstone is an air-launched anti-tank missile produced in the United Kingdom, which was developed from the US-made AGM-114 Hellfire. Its name is also a reference to the Hellfire (e.g., "hellfire and brimstone"). Originally a GEC-Marconi project, the Brimstone is now manufactured by MDBA.

   The road to the Brimstone missile in service today was extremely long and convoluted, and it took longer to arrive at the current missile than it has even been in service to date. The RAF's original requirement had been set in the 1970s for a "steerable cluster bomb", as a replacement for the BL755 cluster bomb, a project designated VJ291. Though they had been offered the US-made AGM-65 Maverick, the RAF insisted on developing a different weapon in a different fashion. Unfortunately for the RAF, the VJ291 failed to live-up to its promises, and ended up being canceled in 1978.

   A successor program was initiated in 1982, designated as SRA 1238 ("Staff Requirement [Air] 1238"). Rather than another cluster bomb, the RAF proposed that the BL755 be replaced by an autonomous, all-weather air-to-ground missile with a stand-off capability. Parliament was sufficiently impressed to authorize the program, and the UK Ministry of Defense began an evaluation of multiple competing models. The winner was the Brimstone, a development of the Hellfire offered as part of a joint project between Marconi and Rockwell. However, little progress was made, and no functional missiles had been built; by 1990, the Brimstone program was also terminated.

   The Brimstone's fortunes inverted once again in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which guided munitions were heavily-employed. This prompted the MoD to revive the Brimstone program in 1992, though again, progress on the missile was slow; the contract wasn't even formally awarded until November 6th 1996.

   Unfortunately for the RAF, simply loading slightly-modified Hellfires onto a fixed-wing aircraft like the Tornado GR.4 wasn't a practical solution, as its propulsion, guidance, and steering systems made a launch at supersonic speeds effectively impossible. And while the Brimstone was originally meant to simply be an improved Hellfire, the RAF's requirements also necessitated so many changes that the resulting weapon ended up having no common components with the Hellfire (effectively defeating the whole purpose of deriving one weapon from another).

   Development of the Brimstone was unsurprisingly prolonged, and its first airborne carriage trials test launch didn't even take place until two years later, in 1998; August of 1999 saw the first launch from an aircraft. Though much research and development was still required, production was nonetheless also initiated in 1999. The first air launch took place in September of 2000, with the munition being launched from a Tornado GR.4, resulting in a 12-month setback. Further delays plagued the program, as the RAF suddenly placed a much higher priority on the development of the Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missile, and the Tornados that would have been used as launch platforms were hurriedly re-deployed to the Persian Gulf (for what would soon develop into the 2003 Invasion of Iraq). A further setback occurred when the RAF changed the requirements to allow for a safe launch at even higher speeds, and the redesign of the autopilot system necessitated by this change drove the program forward another 6 months. Ultimately, the Brimstone wasn't officially declared operational until 2005.

   The Brimstone at present is only compatible with the Tornado IDS in operational service, though the Typhoon is presently being adapted to use it as well. It is also intended to be used by the MQ-9 Reaper and Protector UAVs, as well as the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, though it is unclear when or if these aircraft will eventually carry it. The Harrier GR.7 was supposed to be made compatible with the Brimstone as well, but constant setbacks in the program and the Harrier's removal from British service in 2011 foiled this endeavor.

   The F-35 Lightning II was also initially to use the Brimstone as well, but that effort appears to be in limbo. The Brimstone is rail-launched, necessitating the use of external pylons under the F-35's wings, and this aircraft would effectively have to forfeit it's stealth advantages and low-drag underside in order to carry Brimstone. That the US-equivalent AGM-65 Maverick has already been rejected for use on the F-35 is also an issue. However, a variant of the Brimstone currently in development, the SPEAR 3, may yet give the F-35 a tactical air-to-ground missile capability, as this is one of the aircraft it is intended for.

   The appearance of the Brimstone is strongly evocative of its Hellfire ancestry, and the two missiles are easily mistaken for one another at a glance. The Brimstone is distinguished by its broader tailfins, longer radome, and transparent dome-shaped nose. Due to its glass-like cover, reflective backing, and protruding receiver element, the seeker window curiously resembles the emitter element of a common flashlight. The composition of the Brimstone missile has not been published, but is presumably similar to that of the Hellfire.

   As with the Hellfire, the Brimstone is propelled by a two-stage solid fuel rocket motor. The fuel is expended rapidly, leaving the missile to continue to the target mostly via inertia. Starting with the Brimstone 2, a more powerful and longer-burning ROXEL rocket motor was used, resulting in a 200% increase in range. Some sources state that the Brimstone is powered by a turbojet engine. However there don't appear to be any jet-propelled Brimstone variants.

   The Brimstone's performance is broadly similar to that of the Hellfire. The rocket motor rapidly accelerates it to full speed after launch, and from a standstill the Brimstone will achieve a high subsonic flight speed. However, as it is usually launched from an aircraft already moving at a considerable velocity, the Brimstone is likely to be supersonic by the time it's boost phase ends. Moreover, unlike the Hellfire, the Brimstone can be safely launched from an aircraft moving at supersonic speeds.

   As with the AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire, the Brimstone employs active radar guidance. Also as with the Longbow Hellfire, an milimetric wave bandwidth is used, at 94 GHz. This allows the missile to lock onto a target in any visibility conditions, and all but the foulest weather, and up to 24 missiles can be used in a given area simultaneously without interference. As the Brimstone has its own onboard radar transmitter, it can keep the target continuously illuminated until impact, effectively making it a "fire-and-forget" type weapon.

   Starting with the Dual Mode Brimstone, this and all subsequent variants also possess a semi-active laser guidance system, making these among the few missiles equipped with two major types of guidance simultaneously. When laser guidance is employed, the target is painted with a laser spot, which the missile homes-in on. This enables a second party (such as ground troops or another aircraft) to steer the missile directly into a chosen target, which also minimizes exposure for the launch aircraft (which can simply launch and peel-away).

   These guidance methods aren't infallible, however. Chaff, jamming, or active protection systems can defeat radar guidance, as can simple radio interference, while lasers are unusable in clouds, fog, smoke, dust clouds, or heavy rainfall, and are susceptible to return fire from laser dazzlers. A laser proximity fuse allows the warhead to detonate at the optimum distance prior to impact, in order to maximize armor penetration.

   The Brimstone is armed with a 6.3 kg tandem shaped charge warhead, also known as tandem HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank). The precursor warhead allows this munition to cause explosive reactive armor on armored vehicles to prematurely detonate, allowing the main charge to penetrate the armor behind it without having its penetrator disrupted.

   Exactly how much armor the Brimstone's warhead is rated to defeat has not been published, though according to MDBA's brochure, it "defeats all known conventional and reactive armor". Given that the Hellfire is known to penetrate over 800 mm of steel armor, it is probable that the Brimstone's armor penetration is even greater.

   Several publications also state that a High-Explosive Fragmentation (HE-FRAG) warhead is also available for the Brimstone, but little else has been mentioned. This type of warhead would be better-suited for engaging structures, troop concentrations, and material targets (such as radar dishes, power substations, trucks, and so on) than a shaped charge warhead.

 

   The Brimstone's entry into operational service proved disappointing, as the rules of engagement for air-to-ground combat in Afghanistan required a "man in the loop" (i.e., direct control of the munition) in guided missile strikes. This could not be accomplished with a "fire-and-forget" type weapon, and an urgent operational requirement was issued in 2008 for a Brimstone that included a laser seeker.

   Though the first of 300 converted Brimstones became operational that year, resulting in the Dual Mode Brimstone, the effort added an extra $12 million (10 million) in expenses to the program, resulting in a program cost in excess of $456 million (380 million). The press was particularly skeptical of this development, as the resulting missile cost as much as an AGM-65 Maverick, a missile already available for immediate acquisition from US stockpiles.

   A requirement for an even more formidable missile resulted in the Selective Precision Effects At Range (SPEAR) Capability 2 Block 1 program, which in March of 2010 selected the Dual Mode Brimstone as its design basis. Dubbed the Brimstone 2, it was planned to be in service in by 2012; but given the past history of the Brimstone, it should come as no surprise that this new missile was still undergoing testing and evaluation well into 2013. The schedule was pushed further ahead to November of 2015, but the Brimstone 2 wasn't finally in service until July of 2016 (43 months beyond the originally projected initial operational capability date).

   Famously, the accuracy of the Brimstone 2 was demonstrated by using it against moving pickup trucks on a US proving ground in October of 2013. A surprisingly large percentage of the target remained intact during these tests, but it's safe to say that the Brimstones voided their warranties.

   Yet another iteration, the Brimstone 3, was announced in early 2018. The MoD signed a 400 Million contract with MDBA to develop the Brimstone 3, but little else is known of this new missile at the time of writing.

   The first formation to receive the Brimstone was No. 31 Squadron RAF, in March of 2005, with full operational capacity for the Brimstone being declared in the following December. Tornado GR.4s of IX(B) Squadron carried Dual-Mode Brimstones on the missile's first combat sortie on December 18th 2008, as part of Operation Telic in the Iraq War. The first combat launch of the Brimstone occurred in June 2009, in which Tornado GR.4s of 12 Squadron carried-out airstrikes in support of Operation Herrick in the Afghan War.

   The heaviest combat use of the Brimstone to date was in Operation Ellamy the RAF's contribution to the air war over Libya in 2011. During the first airstrike involving Brimstones, Tornado GR.4s destroyed 5 armored vehicles of the Muamar Qaddafi regime near Misrata and Ajdabiya on March 26th. A total of 60 Brimstones were launched over Libya by that time, in what had been their heaviest use to date (60 of 110 Brimstone combat launches were in Libya by that time). Stocks of Dual Mode Brimstones plummeted dramatically during this campaign, and the MoD contracted MDBA to convert a further 150 standard Brimstones into the Dual Mode model to compensate.

   September 15th 2011 also saw the first combat launch of the original Brimstone model, when two RAF Tornado GR.4s of IX(B) Squadron launched 22 missiles against an armored column near Sabha. One of these aircraft launched a salvo of all 12 missiles aboard during this strike.

   September 2014 saw the long-awaited participation of the RAF in the air war over Syria, designated Operation Shader. However, the press chided the Brimstone for its conspicuous absence from these missions throughout 2014 and 2015, and the Brimstone didn't make its combat debut in Libya until December of 2015. Its results have nonetheless proven impressive enough that journalist are now singing a different tune, advocating the Brimstone for the US military.

   Saudi Arabia has also acquired the Brimstone, with deliveries beginning in 2011, and had acquired over 1 000 of them by 2017. These missiles have been used in the RSAF's ongoing war in Yemen, though little information on these operations has been reported.

   By 2018, the Brimstone was used only by Saudi Arabia and the UK. It has also been selected by Germany and it was planned that the Luftwaffe will begin using them in 2019. The Qatar has recently signed a deal to acquire their own Brimstones as well.

   Several other nations have eyed the Brimstone with great interest as well. Not the least of these is the US, as the Department of Defense has been interested in a potential replacement for the venerable AGM-65 Maverick for some time. Moreover, the recent air campaign over Syria has seen the air arms of the US military quickly expend almost all of their ordnance as well (with stockpiles of guided weapons being hit particularly hard), so any new air-to-ground missiles are becoming a sought-after commodity.

   The Brimstone series remain in active production and development, and due to its export sales and NATO's recent actions in Syria, it remains in high demand. Over 2 000 examples have been produced to date.

   A new Brimstone missile costs approximately $126 000 (105 000) to produce, though to cover R&D expenses, the price tag is closer to $210 000 (175 000).

 

Variants

 

   Brimstone: Basic production model, with radar guidance only.

   Dual Mode Brimstone: This is a modified Brimstone, which is distinguished by the addition of a laser guidance capability. It still retains a milimetric wavelength radar guidance system. The Brimstone's entry into operational service proved disappointing, as the rules of engagement for air-to-ground combat in Afghanistan required a "man in the loop" (i.e., direct control of the munition) in guided missile strikes. This could not be accomplished with a "fire-and-forget" type weapon, and an urgent operational requirement was issued in 2008 for a Brimstone that included a laser seeker. The first of 300 converted Brimstones became operational that year. It is likely that nearly all surviving Brimstones will be converted into Dual Mode Brimstones.

   Brimstone 2: Second-generation Brimstone missile, with greatly improved range, guidance, and electronic counter-countermeasures equipment. It is visibly longer than the original Brimstone. A requirement for an even more formidable missile resulted in the Selective Precision Effects At Range (SPEAR) Capability 2 Block 1 program, which in March of 2010 selected the Dual Mode Brimstone as its design basis. Dubbed the Brimstone 2, it was planned to be in service in by 2012; but given the past history of the Brimstone, it should come as no surprise that this new missile was still undergoing testing and evaluation well into 2013. The schedule was pushed further ahead to November of 2015, but the Brimstone 2 wasn't finally in service until July of 2016 (43 months beyond the originally projected initial operational capability date).

   FAHW: A variation of the Brimstone 2, the Future Attack Helicopter Weapon (FAHW) is planned as a weapon for use on rotary-wing aircraft. It effectively brings the Brimstone's evolution full-circle, back to the mission of the Hellfire it was developed from.

   Brimstone 3: First announced in March of 2018, the Brimstone 3 is planned to be a radical rebuild of the Brimstone 2, in much the same way that the Brimstone was developed from the Hellfire. Many improvements are called-for, including a 30% greater battery life, new computers, a new guidance system, and a 20% greater range.

   SPEAR: Short for "Selective Precision Effects At Range", this air-launched weapon is an extended-range version of the Brimstone, intended to defeat mobile targets at ranges in excess of 120 km. Though developed from the Brimstone, it is practically a totally new missile. There are also two further evolutions, dubbed SPEAR 2 and SPEAR 3.

   Sea Spear: Naval version of the Brimstone intended to be launched from a variety of combat vessels, up from and including fast attack craft. Unlike the SPEAR series, the Sea Spear is basically a converted Brimstone, and has a comparable range and attack profile.

 

Similar weapons

 

   AGM-114 Hellfire: The Hellfire was the starting point for the Brimstone's design, and the two missiles share many similarities. However, the Hellfire lacks the range and dual-guidance capabilities of the Brimstone, and can't be launched safely at high airspeeds.

   AGM-65 Maverick: Comparable in range and flight performance to the Brimstone, the Maverick is significantly larger, heavier, and more destructive. However, missiles like the Brimstone may yet supersede it.

   AGM-169 JCM: Meant to be a broad replacement for many types of air-to-ground missiles in all branches of the US inventory, the Lockheed-Martin Joint Common Missile (JCM) was broadly similar in its design and mission to the Brimstone. However, it was deemed that the benefits didn't outweigh its costs, and the JCM program was terminated in 2007.

   JAGM: Essentially a resurrected JCM, the JAGM (Joint Air to Ground Missile) is another Lockheed-Martin product, and virtually a clone of the Brimstone. Though as of mid-2018, development the JAGM has proven sluggish and problematic, and this program looks to be on the verge of cancellation as well. Given these trends, it is probable that the US military will eventually acquire the Brimstone instead.

   Nag: This Indian missile is broadly similar in both form and function to the Brimstone, though it lacks dual-mode guidance, and it also can't be launched at high airspeeds. However, development of a variant for use on supersonic fixed-wing aircraft is underway.

   Mokopa: Produced by the Denel Group in South Africa, the Mokopa is broadly similar in performance and capabilities to the Brimstone, save that it can't be launched at high airspeeds, and that it lacks a dual-mode guidance system.

 

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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Brimstone missile

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