The Royal Air Force has completed a series of trials of the enhanced variant of MBDA's Brimstone air-to-surface missile using the Panavia Tornado GR4.

Eleven flights were carried out during the operational assessment, which was conducted in February at the US Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California. The activity marks a “major step” towards the weapon being granted its release to service with the RAF.

Further assessment is expected to take place ahead of this milestone, which will eventually lead to integration on board the RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoons in 2018.

Initial operational capability is due to be granted from this month onwards for use on the Tornado, but there is still an existing stockpile of the previous iteration of the precision-guided weapon, which the type can continue to use, MBDA tells Flightglobal. It will be up to the RAF to decide whether to begin using the enhanced system as soon as possible to support its current operations in the Middle East, or employ the older version and reserve the updated model for Typhoon operations.

The enhanced variant – referred to by the RAF as Brimstone 2 – benefits from a 100% increase in stand-off range, MBDA says, and an increased ability to engage targets at high off-boresight angles. It includes an updated dual-mode seeker capability, an insensitive munition rocket motor and warhead, and a stronger airframe.

Trials were carried out against a number of operational scenarios, “with precise hits on very small, fast-moving vehicles and against complex static targets”, MBDA says. They also included single and salvo firings.

Tornado Brimstone - MBDA

Tornado GR4 with the current version of Brimstone

Crown Copyright

Brimstone 2 is also expected to be offered to the RAF’s future General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Certifiable Predator B unmanned air vehicle-based Protector programme. Test firings involving its current MQ-9 Reaper platform and the older Brimstone were carried out in 2014.

Other areas of development include integration onto the Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopter, with a feasibility study funded by the UK Ministry of Defence under way to assess the use of the weapon. Approval has been granted by the US State Department to sell the rotorcraft to the Army Air Corps, although a decision on which attack helicopter it will acquire to replace its AH-64D-equivalent Apache AH1s has yet to be made.