New British Brimstone 2 Missiles Are Bad News For Russian Tanks, Artillery, Air Defense, Command Posts…

The UK has been supplying Ukraine with Brimstone missiles since April. Yesterday the UK Ministry of Defence officially confirmed what was being unofficially claimed based on imagery, that Ukraine is receiving not just the older Brimstone 1 but the latest and vastly more capable Brimstone 2. While Russian forces seems to be going down the evolutionary ladder, fielding increasingly ancient tanks and issuing conscripts with rifles from a previous age, allies are supplying Ukraine with ever more advanced equipment. And Brimstone 2 is a very handy addition to the arsenal.

The step up may be inspired by how capably Ukraine has adapted previous weapons. Although designed for use from helicopters and aircraft, Ukraine has developed its own truck-mounted Brimstone launcher. This may have been easier than matching NATO-standard HARM missiles with incompatible Russian-made MiG aircraft, it is still a significant feat, and typical of Ukrainian improvisation.

Ironically enough, the original Brimstone missiles was designed to tackle mass assault by Soviet armor. It is based on the airframe of the Hellfire missile, which can also be launched from aircraft, but the issue was range. Hellfire reaches out to around 8 kilometres, putting attacking aircraft much too close to Soviet mobile air defense systems. In addition, the original Hellfire required laser guidance, meaning that either the launch aircraft or an assistant had to be within visual range of the target and keep it in sight during the attack.

Brimstone brought two big improvements. One was range, 12 km from a hovering helicopter, 20 km from an aircraft. The other was millimeter-wave (MMW) guidance. MMW sees in fine detail, and metallic objects like tanks have a strong MMW signature. A MMW radar seeker allowed Brimstone to locate and identify targets within a specified kill box from well beyond visual range, making it a true ‘fire and forget’ missile and allowing strike aircraft to stay well clear. It also meant that Brimstones could be fired in salvoes, with several missiles each finding their own target.. (A clever deconfliction algorithm means that each missile goes for a different target, and they are able to distinguish and prioritize different types of vehicle, for example going for high-value command vehicles first, then tanks and other armor and trucks last).

In trials in 2005, 30 out of 31 Brimstones hit the target, an impressive hit rate of better than 96%. In 2016, a BoeingBA
flight test engineer describe this precise hit on a tank by a self-guided Brimstone as “the most aggressive shot I have seen in my 30 years on the ApacheAPA

The feared Soviet invasion never happened. What was needed in the 2000s was a laser-guided precision weapon for Iraq and Afghanistan, one that an operator could guide to a specific building or trench. Brimstone was re-engineered as a dual-mode weapon with laser guidance and the MMW seeker acting as a backup.

We do not know how Brimstone has been used in Ukraine and whether it requires a laser designator to highlight targets. But according to the makers, the original fire-and-forget mode is still available with a software modification. Why not include it as standard? Because that would make the Brimstone an autonomous weapon, a flying killer robot that finds and engages targets without human involvement. And that is still a highly contentious issue.

Brimstone 2 features two significant upgrades over 1. The guidance system has been greatly improved against “challenging targets” (for example, those that are obscured or seen at odd angles) and a new Roxel rocket motor increase range by “more than 200%” with ranges reported as 40 km from helicopters and 60 km from aircraft. Range for ground launch should be similar to a helicopter.

From 40km away, laser guidance would require long-range drones equipped with designators such as the Bayraktar TB2. The MMW guidance is likely to be far more practical. This would enable thr missile to knock out not just tanks and personnel carriers but higher-value units like self-propelled artillery, and surface-to-air missile systems and command vehicles located well behind the front line.

Unlike kamikaze drones like the Phoenix Ghost, the Brimstone comes in at a supersonic speed, making it far more difficult to stop. It will nit change the war, but Brimstone 2 will make life significantly harder for Russian commander and more dangerous for their troops.