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MBDA targets Brimstone at anti-FIAC role

By: Richard Scott Published: 11 Jul 2012

A Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado GR.4 strike aircraft has proved the capability of MBDA's Dual Mode Brimstone (DMB) precision-guided missile against fast inshore attack craft (FIAC) during a live firing event at the QinetiQ Aberporth range in west Wales.

The 25 June test saw a Tornado fire a single DMB to sink a 6 m rigid inflatable boat (RIB) acting as a FIAC surrogate. This followed on from a series of prior data gathering trials, the most recent of which was completed in March this year.

Introduced to service with RAF Tornado aircraft in late 2008, DMB was originally conceived to meet a UK Urgent Operational Requirement for a high-precision, low collateral damage close air support weapon. MBDA met this requirement by augmenting the legacy millimetric wave (MMW) radar seeker with an additional semi-active laser (SAL) mode.

DMB has now become established as the RAF's weapon of choice against a range of fixed and moving ground targets. MBDA is now looking to promote the missile's wider versatility in engaging maritime targets, and has privately funded test and trials work to evaluate the performance of the missile to counter FIAC 'swarms'.

In October 2010 MBDA undertook preliminary trials at the Aberporth range to evaluate the ability of the DMB seeker to track small boat targets at sea. The successful results of these tests cleared the way for a live end-to-end trial with an air-launched weapon. This company-funded event, undertaken on 25 June 2012, was supported by the UK Ministry of Defence using a Tornado GR.4 trials aircraft from 41 Squadron (the RAF's Fast Jet and Weapons Operational Evaluation Unit) and the range facilities at Aberporth.

According to MBDA, the trial saw a single DMB weapon launched against a 6 m rigid inflatable boat transiting at 20 kt in Sea State 3 conditions. The RIB was illuminated by the Tornado's Litening III targeting pod, with the DMB weapon initially guided to the target in SAL mode.

The seeker subsequently switched to MMW mode in the terminal phase, scoring a direct hit on the aft end of the RIB. The warhead effect stopped and sank the craft.

MBDA said: "The firing marks the culmination of a series of seeker and telemetry gathering trials against maritime targets that have taken place over a period of five years. These trials confirmed the ability of the missile to acquire and track the FIAC in both semi-active laser and MMW radar guidance modes in realistic maritime scenarios."

It continued: "It also significantly advances and confirms MBDA's ability to offer ...an extremely effective, anti-swarming FIAC capability using [the] combat proven Brimstone missile in its MMW version."

Building on the recent demonstration, MBDA is now proposing a ship-launched Brimstone Sea Spear variant designed for vessels down to about 15 m in size, with current marketing efforts focused on the Gulf. Brimstone Sea Spear would specifically exploit the area mode of the MMW seeker alone, with only minor software refinements, to provide for the all-weather 'fire and forget' engagement of multiple FIACs.

The company has already commenced development of the associated ship system, comprising modular fixed launch canisters and a PC-based command and firing terminal. Plans are currently being drawn up for a series of surface launch trials at Aberporth, with MBDA looking to begin these later in 2012.