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Fixed-wing Weapons.

As the requirement for range increases, so does weight, which necessitates the use of larger and more powerful delivery media. As a consequence, longer stand-off ranges imply the use of additional guidance methods.

Both the Gulf War and the Kosovo conflict demonstrated that low-flight delivery -- even if fast -- was not the panacea, and that other means had to be devised.


In parallel with the AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire, Alenia Marconi Systems is developing the Brimstone, which has been adopted by the British Ministry of Defence to fulfil SR(A)1238, an anti-armour weapon to supersede the now obsolete BL755 cluster bomb.

The requirement called for a day/night all-weather system that will allow fast jet aircraft to make multiple tank kills in a single pass, from low or medium level release and a safe stand-off distance. The new weapon is also required to defeat all known and foreseeable armour, to be handled as a wooden round, and to have a 20-year life and growth potential.

In November 1996, Gec-Marconi (now AMS) was awarded a 600 million [pounds sterling] contract by the British Ministry of Defence for the missile's development and production. The contractual in-service date is October 2001, with the RAF Tornado (which can carry four batches of three rounds under the fuselage) acting as lead aircraft.

The Brimstone is based on the Boeing Hellfire I, but the airframe has been strengthened to withstand the more demanding carriage environment of a high-speed aircraft. It carries an Alenia Marconi Systems 94 GHz seeker and automatic target recognition software, currently designed to identify tanks, armoured personnel carriers, self-propelled guns and air defence units, but not trucks. The rate gyros of the Hellfire I have been replaced by an IMU (inertial measuring unit), while the air bottle and pneumatic actuators have been superseded by a thermal battery and electrical actuators. The analogue autopilot has been replaced by a digital unit.

The software allows the pilot to specify a search in a given area along the missile's flight path, with the seeker only acting to provide terrain avoidance prior to this area. The Brimstone can also be preset to dive to self-destruct in a safe area. In a salvo firing, missiles can be set to search in parallel swathes, or to attack different parts of a linear convoy.

The Brimstone is normally fired by reference to the pilot's head-up display, but the advent of helmet-mounted sights will allow firings at larger off-axis angles. It can also be fired beyond visual range, using target co-ordinates from external sources. Another version with increased range is being promoted as a replacement for the British Army's Swingfire weapon.


Unlike most of the weapons so far discussed, the Raytheon AGM-65 Maverick has its roots in the past, deliveries having begun in 1972. However, it is noteworthy that, as a result of British experience in Kosovo, where the Royal Air Force lacked an adverse weather ground attack missile, it is now proposed to buy Mavericks for use on the Harrier GR7 (the weapon already having been cleared for use on the AV-8B). The Maverick has been produced with three types of guidance: television lock-on in the cases of the AGM65A/B/H, imaging infrared for the AGM-65D/F/G and laser spot-homing for the AGM-65E. There are also two warhead options: a 57-kilogram shaped-charge for the AGM-65A/B/D/H and a 136-kilogram penetration/blast warhead for the AGM-65E/F/G/J/K.

Over 30 000 examples of the original AGM-65A/B series were built, and Mavericks have been delivered to 30 armed services. The Maverick airframe is no longer being built, but AGM-65F/Gs are being produced for export by removing the imaging infrared guidance sections from US Air Force AGM-65Gs and fitting them to AGM-65A airframes taken from storage. The Air Force's AGM-65Gs are meanwhile being fitted with new CCD seekers that will provide excellent dawn-to-dusk capability. The result is the AGM-65K, which will enter service in the near future.
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Publication:Armada International
Date:Dec 1, 2000
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