MBDA has revealed that it successfully conducted a series of trials of the Brimstone missile from the Boeing AH-64E Apache. The news comes hot on the heels of the announcement on Monday that the UK is purchasing 50 AH-64Es for the British Army. Brimstone is regarded as the weapon of choice to arm the helicopters.
MBDA (Hall 3 Innovation Zone Stand B21, Outdoor Exhibition 10) conducted the trials in June at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona from a production AH-64E provided and modified by partner Boeing, the missile being fired from the Apache’s regular M299 four-round launcher.
A number of firings of telemetry missiles with no warhead were undertaken, exploring variables such as: missile guidance modes (semi-active laser, millimetric-wave radar and dual-mode); different release altitudes, speeds and attitudes; high off-boresight angles; target types; and different designation sources (the AH-64’s MTADS system and fire control radar, and third-party laser).
Known as Project Keme, the trials were undertaken as part of a UK MoD-funded three-phase integration process. The initial phase proved the feasibility of integration, followed by a nine-month rapid functional integration to allow the trials to be undertaken. Now the full integration third phase is under discussion, with the aim of clearing the weapon for AH-64E deployment.
MBDA is developing a new iteration of the Brimstone for the Apache, dubbed FAHW (future attack helicopter weapon). However, the FAHW is just the next step in a spiral development that enhances Brimstone’s capabilities regardless of platform. The current version was tested on the General Atomics Reaper UAV in March 2014, including firings against vehicles moving at 70 mph (113 km/h), and is expected to arm the Protector UAVs that the UK MoD is acquiring. Integration of Brimstone on the Typhoon is also under way, with carriage trials already performed.
In May the RAF began operating the latest Brimstone II missile on the Tornado attack aircraft. This version introduces a new airframe designed to give longer on-wing hours, an IM (insensitive munition) motor from Roxel, and a new IM warhead from TDW. IM protection is particularly applicable for use at sea, especially for the Apache fleet that is expected to be carrier-deployable. A more robust seeker is installed with some capability enhancements, while the autopilot has been updated to give an increased engagement envelope, notably in off-axis attack capability and range when fired from low level.
FAHW builds on these improvements through changes made mainly to the software, adding a new millimetric-wave attack mode for non-armored targets. The weapon has various cockpit-selectable modes and fly-out profiles, including selectable impact angles and fusing (delay, air-burst or impact) to achieve different effects. There is a column-attack mode for simultaneous firings against vehicle groups. FAHW also has an anti-helicopter capability, and has been successfully tested against fast inshore attack craft.
A spiral development approach allows successive improvements to be applied across the Brimstone II/FAHW stock, with the aim of achieving interoperability between attack helicopter, UAV and fast-jet fleets. A common RAF/British Army stockpile would provide greater flexibility of distribution, and also drive down logistics and associated costs.
MBDA has received considerable interest in the Brimstone from a number of potential export customers. In the U.S. the company has a sizeable contract to conduct a de-risking study to fit the weapon on the F/A-18 Super Hornet, working closely with Boeing and the U.S. Navy at China Lake. There is also a smaller study contract for the Boeing F-15. France is another nation that is evaluating the weapon.