Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Tank Hell

On the 16th of January 1991 the Coalition began operation Desert Storm, which resulted in one of the most comprehensive defeats in modern times. It was later said that as most of the forces and firepower were from NATO, they simply took the plan they had for fighting the Russians in Europe and applied it to the Russian equipped Iraqis. A key part of the air war were precision guided weapons. The effectiveness, and ability to stand-off from targets and reduce the threats from enemy air defences increased interest in many countries. Operation Desert Storm was often considered the first media war, and towards the end of the war the second Highway of Death (the first was in 1941) received massive coverage when the Iraqi's contributed to the cessation of hostilities. This media influence of wars also promoted the importance of precision guided weapons, as they potentially allowed a significant reduction in collateral damage, and thus not give negative press.
The Highway of death, or a repeat of the lesson on what happens if you try to manoeuvre an army in the open under hostile skies.
Before Desert Storm, since about 1978, the British had been researching and developing a new generation of standoff weapons. Two had been selected, one was called SWAARM, the other Brimstone. The latter was originally meant to be based off the US Hellfire missile, but over the course of the project the entire missile had eventually been redesigned, and so only bore a passing resemblance. However, in the 1990 the defence spending cuts... err... "review" (I've never seen a Defence review from the UK government that didn't cut the MOD's budget!), called Options for Change, the standoff missile project was terminated. It's interesting to note that this was published around the 25th of July in 1990, and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which was the catalyst for Operation Desert Storm, happened on the 2nd of August 1990. After Desert Storm ended the MOD conducted the usual reviews and processes to determine what it needed in a future a war, and the idea of the stand-off precision missile reappeared. The MOD then began working on what the weapon would look like, and the project was dusted off and revived in 1992. By 1994 requirements had been issued for the weapon. Some five competitor entries were submitted, two of which were the SWAARM and the Brimstone. SWAARM is a really curious weapon made by Hunting Engineering Ltd. It seems to have drawn on the companies experience in submunition dispensing containers (Hunting Engineering was responsible for the JP233 airfield denial weapon). The weapon was lobbed into the area using a toss bombing technique. The cannister was unpowered, and would then glide to its target area, where it would start dispensing self-targeting submunitions. In the end Brimstone got the development contract in 1996. First launch, from a static ground mount was in 1999, and an air launch from a Tornado was in 2000.

The new wonder weapon, Brimstone in all its glory.
Brimstone entered service in 2005 and has been involved in several operations. A key point about the missile is that it is designed to limit collateral damage. If the missile fails to find a target, it will fly itself off to somewhere safe and self-destruct. Even if it does find a target, its extreme accuracy and specially designed warhead means that it prevents collateral damage. In 2011 the British were taking part in air strikes against Libyan forces, this was named Operation Ellamy. In July a Libyan tank decided to shelter inside an alley way between two houses, assuming it would be safe from Allied air attacks as any attempt to destroy it would cause significant damage to the houses. A single Brimstone destroyed the tank and caused no damage to either property.
A RAF Tornado showing off its payload of Brimstone.
 Later on, in September, the Libyans moved a large concentration of their tanks to the south of the country. They surrounded them with air defence units, meaning any attack would have to face significant fire. Two Tornadoes were despatched, each carrying twelve Brimstones. At a range of twenty-five miles two Tornado's ripple fired their missiles, one of the two planes only launched ten, the other all twelve. At the Libyan tank concentration, there was extremely bad weather, so the Brimstones arrived, locked on and began their attacks. Twenty-two tanks were destroyed, utterly without warning or even a defence being offered.

MBDA's tracked Brimstone launcher. I suspect someone had played 40K as a child.
Brimstone has recently been undergoing some developments, and the parent company MDBA has been pushing ground-based solutions. These would give ground forces the ability to break up enemy tank formations before they could normally engage. Most recently they have shown a small tracked remote-control vehicle with a box of six Brimstones on the back. This seems aimed at light infantry formations giving them some serious firepower. At the same time, they showed a fully tracked chassis mounting three box launchers, each containing eight missiles. Being able to annihilate twenty-four enemy tanks, per friendly vehicle, before the battle is joined certainly tips the balance of power back towards quality over quantity. There is, of course a downside. In this particular case a full load of ammunition for one vehicle would cost £2,520,000, or about half an MBT.

The fully blown AFV that MBDA pushed for sales. 1x Platoon of these = 1 destroyed enemy battalion.
 Despite that there have been other ground uses suggested. Recently a British tank unit has been involved with experimenting with technology. The soldiers of the unit have had a small budget and have been trying out ideas on tanks. Their most recent submission has included a pair of Brimstone missiles attached to the back of the turret. Interestingly this idea was muted for Swingfire and Chieftain. However, in that case it was found to overwork the commander, expose four very expensive missiles to enemy action and the 120mm main gun could do everything Swingfire could. So, it remains to be seen how useful (and cheap) this option would be.
Brimstone is also currently under development as a naval missile, with a larger warhead.

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Image credits:
www.overtdefense.com and www.militaryimages.net