Iraq air strikes: What are Brimstone missiles, and what can they do?

The RAF has used Brimstones against Isis targets in Iraq

Kashmira Gander
Thursday 02 October 2014 18:11 BST
A British RAF tornado fighter jet prepares to land on an airstrip after returning from a mission over Iraq
A British RAF tornado fighter jet prepares to land on an airstrip after returning from a mission over Iraq (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty Images)

Almost a week after MPs voted in favour of carrying out air strikes against Isis targets in Iraq, the RAF revealed its jets had fired four Brimstone missiles against an armed vehicle west of Baghdad last night.

This week, Tornado jets have been deploying Brimstone missiles and Paveway bombs against vehicle and fixed weapons positions, mainly in support of Kurdish forces in the north west.

“Four Brimstone missiles were used to conduct a precision attack on the vehicles.

"Initial analysis indicates that the strikes were successful,” the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

But what are Brimstone missiles, and what are their capabilities?

What is a Brimstone missile?

The weapon is British-made, and the most sophisticated of its kind currently being used in the battle against Isis in Iraq.

Brimstones are a rocket propelled, radar-guided weapon which can seek and destroy targets at long range, according to the RAF.

The weapon is 1.8m long, 0.3m in diameter, and weighs 49kg and has two modes. In indirect mode, weapons are launched when the targets and their position are not visible to the attacking aircraft, whereas in direct mode, the pilot uses an on board sighting system to select the target.

Sources told the Telegraph that the missile’s guidance system is more sophisticated than that used in American Hellfire missiles, which are also used for precision strikes. This means the Brimstone is intended to destroy targets, including moving trucks, while in theory minimising civilian casualties.

What are its capabilities?

In a test undertake on behalf of the RAF in California last year, the missile had a hundred percent accuracy rate despite launching up to 7 miles away at altitudes as high as 20,000 feet, the Mail Online reported. It was able to hit stationery targets, as well as a vehicle travelling at speeds of up to 70mph.

One RAF source told the Telegraph: “It’s got a very small warhead. You can take out very small targets with limited fragmentation spreading around.

“In Afghanistan, we took out people standing in doorways, while those standing nearby were unharmed apart from a bit of dust.”

Who uses them?

Currently, Britain and Saudi Arabia are the only two countries that use the Brimstone, while American is attempting to upgrade its Hellfire missiles to a similar specification.

American defence chiefs used Brimstone missiles in Libya during the 2011 campaign against Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and wanted to use it against Isil, Whitehall sources told the Telegraph.

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