Country of origin
~ 700 mm
~ 48.5 kg
Range of fire
Active radar and semi-active laser
Tornado IDS (current), Typhoon (future)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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"
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Basic production model, with radar guidance only.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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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