UK analysing Reaper results with Brimstone missile

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A potential alternative weapon for the Royal Air Force’s General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Reaper remotely piloted air systems has undergone initial firing trials, in co-operation with the US Air Force’s Big Safari programme office.

“The Ministry of Defence, with MBDA, General Atomics and Big Safari support, conducted the firing trials between December 2013 and January 2014 at the test range at China Lake in the USA,” the MoD says.

According to the ministry, a series of successful firings were performed at the California site “on a range of static and high-speed manoeuvring targets”. Further details have not been disclosed, but the ministry adds that “trial data is being analysed and will be fully evaluated”.

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Interest in the Brimstone’s integration with the Reaper stems from the dual-mode seeker and millimetre-wave radar-equipped type’s combat-proven accuracy, and its ability to engage moving ground vehicles. It also offers a UK-manufactured alternative to the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire missiles currently carried by the RAF’s Reapers. The service will soon increase its operational fleet of the 16h-endurance air vehicle to 10 aircraft, and plans to continue operating the system beyond the end of combat operations in Afghanistan at the end of this year.In early October 2013, MBDA also performed trials in the USA with a Brimstone 2 version of its current missile, which is described as offering a “more than 200% increase” in engagement range. The test campaign culminated with a weapons launch to demonstrate the design’s ability to precisely strike a ground vehicle moving at a speed of 70mph (110km/h).

The RAF’s current five aircraft operate carrying four Hellfires and two Raytheon GBU-12 226kg (500lb) laser-guided bombs. During 54,000 flight hours logged over Afghanistan since late 2007 by its 13 and 39 squadrons, a combined 459 of these had been released by early this month. “The majority of the weapons employed from the Reaper have been Hellfire missiles. Hellfire has a relatively small warhead, which helps minimise any risk of collateral damage,” the air force says in a recently-produced equipment fact sheet.

“No decision has been taken to integrate Brimstone on to [the] UK Reaper,” the MoD tells Flightglobal, also adding that “no decision on future trials has been made”. MBDA declined to comment.