UK faces Brimstone 2 capability gap, NAO warns

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Development of a potentially key ground-attack weapon for the Royal Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoons is nearing completion, but the type may not be fielded with MBDA’s Brimstone 2 missile for another seven years, according to a report by the UK National Audit Office.

“The department is now planning that Brimstone 2 will be fitted to Typhoon but not until 2021, resulting in a two-year capability gap after retiring [the Panavia] Tornado in 2019,” the NAO says in its recently-published Major Projects Report 2013.

Originally due to have entered service in October 2012 with the RAF’s Tornado GR4s, the Brimstone 2 is now expected to reach this milestone in November 2015.

Delays to the introduction of the Brimstone 2 stem from a reliability problem with its Roxel-developed rocket motor, which emerged during testing in January 2012. Citing “significant technical issues on the Vulcan rocket motor”, the NAO refers to “propellant cracking and liner de-bonding”. This occurred during the latter stages of an environmental stress testing campaign designed to replicate conditions to be encountered by the design through a lifetime of use. Issues with the design’s new warhead also contributed to the slip.

Responding to the report, MBDA says programme development activities have remained on track since May 2012, with a series of five firings performed in the USA last October and a launch made with a new rocket motor the following month. Formal qualification work is now nearing completion and will be followed by certification activities and user trials.

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MBDA

An evolution of the dual-mode seeker-equipped Brimstone used by Tornado pilots in Afghanistan and Libya, the enhanced weapon has an increased range and better capability while engaging moving ground vehicles.

In its report, the NAO says the Ministry of Defence “is currently working to determine how best to mitigate this capability gap” following the GR4’s retirement.

One potential means of filling an operational gap would be to advance the full integration of Brimstone with the RAF’s General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Reapers. Successful firing trials involving the combination concluded early this year. The MoD said then that it had yet to decide on whether to field the missile with its remotely piloted air system.

In the shorter term, an additional batch of dual-mode weapons will be delivered from later this year to support UK operations in Afghanistan. These are being “jointly funded by MoD and MBDA”, the NAO says.