BAE to test MBDA's new Brimstone variant with Tornado GR4

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Flight trials of the Panavia Tornado GR4 equipped with an insensitive munition variant of MBDA's dual-mode Brimstone guided missile are to be carried out next year from BAE Systems' Warton site in Lancashire.

The UK Ministry of Defence has awarded BAE an £8.6 million ($12.9 million) contract to assist with integrating the weapon into the Royal Air Force's GR4 fleet, which MBDA expects to take place by 2012.

Readiness and sustainment contracts accounted for 40% of BAE's revenue in 2009.

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Tests due to start at Warton in 2011 will "provide the necessary evidence to clear the Tornado GR4 to carry and deploy this weapon", BAE says. Its work forms an element of a larger development and manufacturing contract awarded to MBDA by the MoD in March, within the Team Complex Weapons initiative, and which replaces an urgent operational requirement.

The new variant of the 50kg (110lb) dual-mode Brimstone forms part of the Selective Precision Effects At Range (Spear) Capability 2 Block 1 weapons package for RAF fast jets. It is intended to deliver a low-collateral, precision-attack capability deployable against manoeuvring and fixed targets in short- to medium-range close air support or counter-insurgency operations.

The RAF's Tornado GR4s, eight of which are deployed in Afghanistan, are operated from main bases at Marham, Norfolk and Lossiemouth, Scotland.

As part of a "spiral development" programme targeting "pan-platform utility", MBDA plans to integrate the IM-variant dual-mode Brimstone on the UK's BAE Harrier strike aircraft by 2012. It is also conducting an assessment that addresses applications with attack helicopters, the UK's Joint Combat Aircraft - Lockheed Martin's F-35B Joint Strike Fighter - and for unmanned aircraft systems and surface-launch.

Under the banner of Spear Capability 3, MBDA will, over the next three years, assess potential new 100kg-category weapons for deployment in long-range JSF-type missions, with a focus on reusing technologies to provide a low-cost option.