UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said that in addition to its most recent support package, which includes 14 British Army Challenger 2s tanks and other heavy armour, the UK will also be delivering 600 more Brimstone precision-guided missiles to Ukrainian forces.
Speaking during a visit to Estonia to meet defence ministers from eastern Europe, Wallace said Nato allies should now be prepared to step up support to Ukraine to enable it to finally drive out Russian forces from its territory.
“In 2023, it is time to turn the momentum that the Ukrainians have achieved in pushing back Russia into gains and making sure Russia understands that the purpose now is to push them back out of Ukraine and to restore Ukraine’s sovereignty, which is their right under international law,” he said.
But what exactly is a Brimstone missile? How do they work, and how much does each one cost? Here is everything you need to know.
What is a Brimstone missile?
Brimstone missiles are ground or air-launched ground attack missiles developed for the UK’s Royal Air Force, and which entered service with RAF Tornado in 2005.
The missiles were initially designed for "fire-and-forget" employment - a type of missile guidance that doesn’t need any additional outside assistance after launch - against mass formations of enemy armour.
However, experience gained through their use in Afghanistan and Libya led to the addition of laser guidance, which enables a "spotter" to choose precise targets with the greatest priority. This is especially beneficial in reducing collateral damage when friendly forces or civilians are present.
According to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Brimstone has shown accuracy and reliability in combat that are "both well above 90 percent."
While currently the missiles are supplied to air forces for use with aircraft, the employment of Brimstone from surface launchers, attack helicopters, UAVs, and ships is being investigated by its developer, MBDA UK.
What are they used for?
Compared to older, comparable weapons, the newer warheads are substantially more powerful against contemporary tanks and armour. One weapon station is taken up by a launcher that carries three Brimstones, and as such, a single aircraft can carry a large number of missiles.
Brimstone missiles can be programmed to adapt to meet specific mission needs, and can locate and decide their own targets within a given region. They also have the capacity to self-destruct if they are unable to find their targets.
Thanks to an advanced onboard sensor package, the Brimstone can image its target before choosing the location on that target where its impact will be most damaging.
How much do they cost?
In 2015, the cost per missile was quoted at £175,000 each. Outside of the UK’s Royal Air Force, Brimstone missiles are currently employed by the Royal Saudi Air Force, the German Air Force and the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Germany, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have purchased the missile, and the Qatar Emiri Air Force, the Polish Land Forces and the Spanish Air Force are expected to make use of them in the future.
How many has the UK sent to Ukraine?
The UK has been a firm ally of Ukraine since Russia’s invasion of the country began in February 2022 – providing the second largest amount of military aid to the country after the US.
In October 2022, the Ministry of Defence said more than 10,000 anti-tank missiles, including Nlaw, Javelin and Brimstone missiles, had been given to Ukraine to bolster their armed forces since the war began.
Previous shipments of the missiles have been used as anti-ship missiles to help Ukraine counter Russian warships in the Black Sea.
What does ‘brimstone’ mean?
Brimstone is an outdated word for sulphur, which gives off a pungent smell. Since sulphur dioxide is released by lightning strikes, and many ancient faiths viewed lightning as divine retribution, brimstone and the acrid odour of brimstone was often seen as a symbol of God having demonstrated his wrath.
As such the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament both use the metaphor "fire and brimstone" to describe God's anger. It is to this idea of “fire and brimstone” to which the name of the Brimstone missile refers.