LONDON — Britain’s Royal Air Force may add MBDA’s Brimstone missile to the list of weapons it can fire from its fleet of Reaper remotely piloted air systems (RPAS), according to the Ministry of Defence.
The US Air Force said it had been asked by the British to conduct flight tests of the man-in-the-loop missile onboard US MQ-9 Reapers.
“The RAF is interested in integrating Brimstone on the MQ-9 Reaper. The USAF plans to conduct combined flight tests later this year,” said a USAF spokesman in an email response to questions.
British defense procurement minister Philip Dunne revealed during a recent visit to Washington that the two sides were coordinating the work through USAF’s Big Safari Group to rapidly prototype the UK weapon on a US platform.
Contrary to an earlier report in Defense News, the USAF said it has no requirement to integrate Brimstone for its MQ-9 fleet requirements and the effort was being undertaken “at the request of the RAF.”
An MoD spokesman confirmed “we are currently undertaking tests in the US to investigate the possible future use of the Brimstone precision weapon from RAF aircraft.”
The MoD originally said the Big Safari work was part of an effort to sell Brimstone to the US military.
That’s only half the story.
The British are hoping the results of the Big Safari work could attract other US unmanned air vehicle operators such as the US Marines, but the thrust of the work is to look at adding the missile to the current RAF inventory of Reaper weapons.
The RAF currently uses Hellfire missiles and Paveway II guided bombs on their armed Reaper surveillance vehicles.
Dual-mode Brimstone relies on millimetric wave radar and a semi-active laser for guidance with the latter giving a man-in-the-loop capability to reduce collateral damage, particularly in urban areas.
Brimstone earned a big reputation in Libya for its ability to strike Moammar Gadhafi’s forces in complex environments, particularly in the besieged town of Misrata where the missile, fitted to RAF Tornado strike jets, was just about the only weapon NATO commanders cleared to strike government armored vehicles infiltrating built-up areas, said senior Royal Air Force commanders.
Continuing British development of weapon options for Reaper could signal the RAF intends to continue operating the RPAS once the drawdown of combat troops is completed at the end of 2014.
Two squadrons of the vehicles have been purchased for the RAF as an urgent operational requirement (UOR) with money provided from a special Treasury reserve fund.
With combat operations in Afghanistan starting to draw down, the British have to decide whether Reaper, and other equipment procured as a UOR, is brought into the core equipment plan or sold off.
No formal decision regarding Reaper has yet to be announced.