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 and the highest priority targets, particularly useful to minimise collateral damage 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.

A triplet of single-mode Brimstone missiles
TypeAir-to-surface missile
Place of originUnited Kingdom
Service history
In service2005
Used byRoyal Air Force
Royal Saudi Air Force
German Air Force
WarsOperation Telic
Operation Herrick
Operation Ellamy
Operation Shader
Production history
ManufacturerMBDA (UK) Ltd, Henlow
Unit cost(Dual Mode Variant)
£175,000 inc development[2]
VariantsSingle mode
Dual Mode Sensor
Brimstone 2
Brimstone 3
Mass107 lb (48.5 kg)
Length71 in (1,800 mm)
Diameter7.0 in (178 mm)
WarheadHEAT tandem warhead
Crush (impact) fuze

EngineSolid-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[3][N 1]
SpeedSupersonic (~450m/s)
94 GHz millimetric wave Active radar homing and INS autopilot, dual-mode adds laser guidance
Accuracy = sub-1m CEP[3]
Flight control surfaces
Tornado GR4
Reaper (planned)[4]
Protector (planned)[4]
Apache (planned)[5]

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[6] 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 the latter were withdrawn from service in 2011. MBDA is studying the use of Brimstone on ships, attack helicopters, UAVs, and from surface launchers. However, it will not be integrated on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.[7][8] The United States, France and Indonesia have expressed interest in buying Brimstone for their aircraft, but Saudi Arabia is the only export customer as of 2015. The cost per missile has been quoted as £175,000 ($263,000) each in 2015,[9] or 'over £100,000'.[10]

In November 2016, the German Air Force announced as part of a closer cooperation between Germany and the UK to procure Brimstone 2 dual mode missiles for their fleet of Eurofighter aircraft from 2019 on. Germany decided against their own missile development as the Brimstone 2 missile already meets 90% of the demanded requirements.[11]



The missile was originally supposed to be an evolution of the original laser AGM-114 Hellfire, with the laser seeker replaced by a millimetre wave (mmW) seeker. During development, virtually the entire missile was redesigned, resulting in a weapon that – other than the external shape – bears no relation to the original airframe. It is unrelated to the separate development of the mmW Hellfire for the Apache Longbow.[12]

Brimstone has a Tandem Shaped Charge (TSC) warhead that employs a smaller initial charge, designed to initiate reactive armour, followed by a larger, more destructive charge, designed to penetrate and defeat the base armour. It has been estimated that Brimstone will be 3 times more effective than the AGM-65G Maverick missile against modern tanks, and 7 times more effective than the BL755 cluster bomb.[13] In combat Brimstone has demonstrated accuracy and reliability "both well above 90 percent" according to the MoD;[14] Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton has said that 98.3% to 98.7% of Brimstone fired in Libya "did exactly what we expected".[15]

Targeting and sensors

Brimstone is a "fire-and-forget" missile, which is loaded with targeting data by the weapon systems officer (WSO) prior to launch. It is programmable to adapt to particular mission requirements. This capability includes essentially the ability to find targets within a certain area (such as those near friendly forces), and to self-destruct if it is unable to find a target within the designated area. This information is provided to the munition by the WSO from RAF ASTOR, USAF Northrop Grumman E-8 Joint STARS aircraft or local troops.

In addition to the semi-autonomous ability to decide its own targets, the Brimstone has the capacity to determine where on a target to best impact causing the most damage or resulting in elimination of the target. The missile's advanced sensor package includes its extremely high frequency millimetric wave radar, which allows the weapon to image the target and hence choose a target location. With as many as twenty-four missiles in the air, the missile's targeting system also required an algorithm to ensure that missiles hit their targets in a staggered order, rather than all simultaneously.

Brimstone can be fired in a number of attack profiles; direct or indirect against single targets, a column of targets or against an array of targets. The latter utilises a salvo attack capability for multiple kills per engagement. Once launched, the platform is free to manoeuvre away from the target area or engage another target array.[16]

Launch system

External image
Harrier with four Brimstone launchers

Each launch system incorporates three rails, i.e. one system carries three missiles. This allows a single aircraft to carry large numbers of missiles; for example, a Typhoon could carry up to six launch systems, one each on six individual pylons, which gives a maximum payload of eighteen Brimstone missiles, in addition to a useful air-to-air payload. The missile is carried by the Tornado GR4 in RAF service.[17] In February 2014 the National Audit Office warned of a possible capability gap under existing plans to fit Brimstone to Typhoon in 2021, two years after the Tornado retired; in June 2014 the MoD announced a study to accelerate this to 2018 and look at a common launcher that could also launch SPEAR Cap 3.[18] MBDA have fired test rounds from an MQ-9 Reaper[18] and are studying the use of Brimstone on attack helicopters and from surface launchers. Both the US and France have expressed interest in buying it for their aircraft.

It was intended that Brimstone would be integrated on the RAF Harrier fleet under Capability D of the JUMP programme[19] with a scheduled in-service date of 2009.[20] A Harrier GR9 first flew with 12 Brimstone on 14 February 2007,[19] and the RAF released video of a Tornado (incorrectly reported as a Harrier) using a Dual Mode Brimstone against an Afghan insurgent in 2008.[21] In late 2009 Brimstone was "nearing completion for integration on the Harrier"[22] but in July 2010 it was reported that Brimstone on the Harrier would be postponed until the insensitive-munition version of the missile became available in 2012.[23] Brimstone had not been officially cleared for use on the type when the UK Harriers were withdrawn from service in late 2010.


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.[24]

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.[1]

Dual-Mode Brimstone

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.[20] 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.[20] Laser guidance allows specific enemy targets to be picked out in cluttered environments, the mmW radar ensures accuracy against moving targets.

The development and procurement of the original single-mode missiles cost £370m,[25] a figure inflated by accounting charges relating to the delays. The development of the dual-mode version cost an additional £10m.[25] The Daily Telegraph reported that the dual mode missiles cost £105,000,[1] 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.[26] Upgrading a single-mode missile to dual mode costs between £35,000 and £45,000 plus VAT, depending on quantities ordered.[27]

Brimstone 2 (SPEAR 2)

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.[28] 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.[20] 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",[29] including a "more than 200% increase" in maximum range.[30] 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[30] and Brimstone 2 is planned to enter service on the Tornado in November 2015.[18] Brimstone 2 was further updated with an insensitive munition compliant rocket motor and warhead in July 2016.[31] It has successfully integrated onto the Tornado GR4 and has trialed on the Eurofighter Typhoon and AH-64E Apache.[32] Nevertheless, this is only an Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for Brimstone 2 on the Tornado GR4 and it is still some 43 months beyond the originally projected October 2012 in-service date.[33]

In July 2016, MBDA further proposed a new variant of Brimstone 2 for the AH-64E Apache. It would specifically be for non-armoured targets in land and sea domains, but will not compromise Brimstone's anti-armour capability. It will have a cockpit-selectable trajectory, which will allow line-of-sight engagement (flat trajectory) and high and low missile flight profiles to avoid close-in obstacles; a cockpit-selectable capability that allows the pilot to determine the elevation and impact angle on the target to maximise weapon effect; and a new set of warhead 'modes, which includes delayed, airburst, impact and proximity fuzing. This weapon will be known as the Future Attack Helicopter Weapon (FAHW).[34]

MBDA has started testing a maritime variant for use against swarms of small boats named Sea SPEAR.[35] 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.[36] 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,[37] MBDA is marketing it in the Gulf for installation on vessels down to 15 m.[36] 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 Sea SPEAR's ability to strike numerous individual targets. During the test one of the targets, a 15-metre craft, was travelling at 20 knots.[38] MBDA pitted Sea SPEAR against the Raytheon Sea Griffin missile for integration onto American Littoral combat ships.[39] The US Navy instead selected the AGM-114L Hellfire as a stop-gap missile for the LCS.[40]

Brimstone 3

MBDA has successfully tested the latest Brimstone 3 version in Sweden, now including surface-to-surface firing, plus new hardware allowing future enhancements.[41]

Operational use

Royal Air Force

In March 2005, Brimstone entered service with No. 31 Squadron RAF.[42] Full Operational Capability (FOC) was declared for the Tornado GR4 in December 2005[42][43] The first operational sortie of dual-mode Brimstone was over Iraq as part of Operation Telic[44] on 18 December 2008[20] by a Tornado GR4[44] of IX(B) Squadron. It was first fired in combat in June 2009,[20] 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.[45] 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.[46] Sixty Brimstone were fired in the first four weeks of the Libya campaign,[1] out of 110 Brimstone fired in all operations up to that time.[1] This prompted the MoD to ask MBDA to convert more missiles to the dual-mode version.[1] 150 dual-mode missiles had been ordered in December 2010,[27] 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.[47] The 500th dual-mode Brimstone was delivered in March 2012,[14] at which time over 200 had been fired in combat.[14] 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.[48]

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 Military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. On September 30, the aircraft flew their first bombing raids, engaging a heavy artillery position with a Paveway IV laser-guided bomb and an armed pickup truck with a Brimstone air-to-ground missile.[49] 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.[50] In December 2015 the UK started using Brimstone missiles in Syria.[9]

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.[51] 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".[52] The French Air Force were still thinking about a purchase in March 2012, with a prime consideration being lower collateral damage[53] compared to the AASM. India has made a request for information about integrating Brimstone on their Sukhoi Su-30MKI fleet.[54] MBDA hopes that firings conducted in the U.S., intended for the UK 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.[55] 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.[56] The United States Army also considered the Brimstone as "an option" in its Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) program,[57] but selected Lockheed Martin's dual-mode seeker upgrade for the Hellfire missile.[58] In September 2015, MBDA displayed the dual-mode Brimstone for the first time as a helicopter-mounted weapon to fulfill the British Army Air Corps' need for a future attack helicopter weapon for the AgustaWestland Apache.[59] In January 2016, it was reported that Germany was considering arming its newly leased Heron TPs with Brimstone.[60] In March 2016, France was reportedly considering Brimstone for its Tiger attack helicopters.[61]

In December 2017 it was announced that Qatar had purchased Brimstone missiles to arm its Eurofighter Typhoon fighter aircraft.[62]

Future development: SPEAR 3


Current operators

 Saudi Arabia
 United Kingdom

Future operators


See also


  1. More than 200% increase in maximum range – Flightglobal Oct 2013
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  40. Navy Axes Griffin Missile In Favor of Longbow Hellfire for LCS –, 9 April 2014
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  55. UK May Arm Reapers With Brimstone –, 21 March 2014
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  57. Shyu On GCV, Upgrades, Sequestration; US ‘Overmatch’ At Stake –, 14 October 2014
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