The UK Royal Air Force has secured urgent operational requirement funding to change the seeker on MBDA’s Brimstone air-to-surface missile, with the work to support operations of its Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft in Iraq and – from early next year – Afghanistan.

Providing the first official confirmation of a dual-mode seeker upgrade to the Brimstone, chief of the air staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy said on 23 June that the modification will “provide more capability against the targets we’re up against at the moment.”

Acquired under the UK Ministry of Defence’s air-launched anti-armour weapon project and now operational with the Tornado GR4 (below), the Brimstone has posed a challenge to military planners since its introduction to service, due to its use of a millimetre-wave radar seeker and a fire-and-forget mode of employment.

 617 Brimstone
© Crown Copyright

Derived from the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire but extensively re-engineered to endure carriage and release from fast jet platforms, Brimstone was conceived for  use against massed formations of enemy armoured vehicles: a scenario far removed from the counter-insurgency demands of Afghanistan and Iraq.

A new seeker would provide the lightweight weapon with a so-called “man-in-the-loop” function, reducing the risk of targeting error and collateral damage. Each Brimstone weapon system comprises a rail launcher with three 50kg (110lb) missiles, with these fired either individually or as multi-round salvoes.

News of the UOR deal comes less than a week after the MoD announced plans to deploy Tornado GR4s to Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan in early 2009, where they will replace a current UK commitment of eight BAE Systems Harrier GR7/9s. The RAF will also continue its long-standing detachment of eight GR4s at Al Udeid air base in Qatar, which provides support for British, coalition and Iraqi government forces in southern Iraq.

The MoD declines to provide further details of the Brimstone upgrade, but confirms that the work is being performed for use by the Tornado GR4 fleet, and is intended “to make existing weapons more suitable for the environment they’re operating in”. The weapon is also slated for integration with the Harrier and the RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoons.

MBDA says only that it continues to offer enhancements to several of the UK’s in-service guided weapon systems.

Torpy says that the RAF is also considering possible future enhancements to its MBDA Storm Shadow cruise missiles. It is also interested in pursuing a new generation of novel weapons using laser and radio frequency technologies, plus smart fuze designs. Such weapons would provide “tuneable effects to minimise collateral damage, but deliver the effect we need,” he told an Air Power Association lunch in London.