The UK's combat introduction of MBDA's dual-mode seeker-equipped Brimstone missile has been affected by two separate problems, but the manufacturer says the air-to-surface weapon remains available for use in Afghanistan.

First fielded by the Royal Air Force's Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft in Iraq in late 2008, the dual-mode Brimstone is now deployed with the type at Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan.

The low-yield weapon - which is derived from the design of Lockheed Martin's helicopter- and unmanned air vehicle-launched AGM-114 Hellfire - was first fired during operations in the country late in 2009.

 617 Brimstone
© Crown Copyright
Each of the GR4's Brimstone missiles weigh 50kg

MBDA told Flight International that the first issue "relates to a minor cosmetic feature in a feeder lens resulting from a manufacturing process that is perfectly acceptable".

This flaw is visible through the upgraded weapon's transparent seeker dome "and can give the appearance that the lens is cracked when it isn't", the company says. "No lenses have ever cracked, and the feature has been proven by MBDA to have no impact whatsoever on the weapon system's operational use or performance."

MBDA says it has issued clarified instructions to the RAF, and that "all in-theatre assets have passed a subsequent technical inspection".

 Brimstone air-to-surface missile
© Crown Copyright 

It believes the second problem "relates to erosion damage which occurred to two missiles in November 2009. Initial findings suggest that this was caused by a foreign object, such as sand or stones." The affected missiles "are currently en route from theatre to MBDA for detailed assessment", it says.

Brimstone is also being integrated with the UK's BAE Systems Harrier GR9 ground-attack aircraft and will later equip its Eurofighter Typhoons. The missile has a 50kg (110lb) launch weight.

MBDA notes that the issues relate only to those weapons modified under an urgent operational requirement deal. The bulk of the UK's Brimstone rounds retain the type's original millimetre-wave radar seeker.

Minister for defence equipment and support Quentin Davies revealed that issues existed with the upgraded weapon in a parliamentary answer during February, but noted: "Neither prevents the DMS Brimstone missile system from being used operationally."

The RAF declines to say how many dual-mode Brimstones have been fired in Afghanistan, but has hailed the precision attack capabilities of the modified weapon system.

Source: Flight International