MBDA Missile Could Counter Swarm Boats

FARNBOROUGH, England — MBDA thinks it has an answer to counter the threat of swarm boats that have concerned naval learders since small Iranian attack boats surrounded U.S. ships in the Arabian Gulf in 2008.

British Tornado GR4s have carried the Brimstone missile in Afghanistan and Libya using it to target fast moving vehicles and minimize collateral damage on sensitive stationary targets. MBDA plans to use that same missile on maritime targets to include small speed boats.

MBDA originally built the Brimstone to kill tanks and large armor formations. In 2008, MBDA  introduced a dual version millimetric wave/semi-active laser to put a man in the loop and provide an extra layer of protection from killing civilians in counterinsurgency wars like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Frank Morgan, an official with MBDA, said here at Farnborough International Airshow the company wants to remove the semi-active laser and focus the Brimstone on tracking small attack boats. The millimeter wave seeker specializes in tracking small moving targets. This year, a Tornado dropped a maritime version of the Brimstone that blew up a 6 meter inflatable boat.

Tracking a naval target is often tougher than a land one because of harsher weather and waves, Morgan said. MBDA has plans for future tests coming soon to fine tune the seeker and offer it to potential customers. The British Royal Air Force and Saudi Arabia are the two countries who carry Brimstone missiles on their aircraft.

“This is a natural progression for Brimstone as MBDA has wanted to expand the role of [the missile],” Morgan said.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • blight_

    And if you buy enough, you bring the price down.

    How does this stack against the Griffin?

    • FormerDirtDart

      Its bigger, faster, and can attack a moving target without continuous lasing. Seems to be similar to the Longbow Hellfire, but with better range

  • duuude

    It would be interesting to see F-18s armed with this weapon and wiping out the Iranian navy in one sortie.

    • STemplar

      JDAMs are probably cheaper and since they are parked dock side most of the time, easier.

      • SJE

        I would have thought a JDAM was not the optimal weapon against a small speedboat?

        • LeoC

          STemplar’s comment was to bomb them at the docks where they would be clustered together (stationary target). Once the Iranian boats scatter, they must be attacked individually on-the-go. What is needed is a small (inexpensive) weapon that can handle a fast moving boat in a swarm attack.

      • Greensborovet

        JDAMs are too dam slow.

    • Anonymous

      It would be less interesting to just not engage in another war.

      • True, except

        It would be less interesting, but i would be more interested in not going to war. I still want the big stick; just not interested in always swinging it.

    • tony

      I am no expert by any stretch of the imagination , but I would worry much more about a sustained swarm attack of sunburn missiles with many dummies mixed in to make one waste the limited amount of brimstone missiles and American analogs. Take the gun from the A10 warthog and put multiple guns on a bigger platform and us that to wipe out a swarm of 100 500 or more.

  • vok

    Brimstone is basically enhanced Hellfire, with longer range and a tri-mode seeker. It’s a good OTS candidate for JAGM. Too bad US won’t consider it.

    • BlackOwl18E

      We considered it. We just couldn’t afford it.

      • vok

        How so? Unlike JAGM, Brimstone is a mature design with actual combat record already under its wing. As such you won’t have worry about potential acquisition fiasco. Each year US spends hundreds of millions dollars buying significant amount of Hellfire missiles. Can we at least divert a portion of that budget for a much better weapon?

        • BlackOwl18E

          Nope. During that round of defense cuts a large portion of them were made to keep funding for the F-35 and LCS. JAGM was one of those cuts.

          • Marauder2048

            Nope. JAGM lives on as EMD. My understanding is that they will likely initially retrofit hellfire missiles with the new tri-mode seeker being developed for SBD II. And since when does Brimstone have a tri-mode seeker? Really, Brimstone is too expensive for use against swarms; the Griffin or the US Navy’s Spike missile are vastly cheaper, lighter and can be used en-masse.

          • FormerDirtDart

            biggest detractors with the Griffin & Navy Spike:
            Griffin needs constant lasing to engage moving target, 3.5 (+-) mile range surface-to-surface.
            Navy Spike: very small warhead, even less range than Griffin

          • LeoC

            I remember the US Army once worked on a hypersonic missile for tanks. The missile had no warhead and was a laser-rider. Flight times was measured in seconds. A helicopter/plane with a load of these missiles would turn those Iranian boats into Swiss cheese.

  • Chops

    I wonder how effective the R2D2 [CIWS ] is against a swarm of boats,anyone know?

    • Riceball

      The problem with a CIWS is range, you have to allow the boats to get in relatively close before a CIWS is effective. What the Navy is looking for is something that gives them stand off capability so they can take the boats out before they come close enough to become a real threat.

    • Tonytitan

      I would imagine that it would depend on the size of the swarm, seeing as how CWIS could suffer from barrel overheating if it had to shoot at too many targets.

    • Doesn’t matter, they are being removed

    • STemplar

      Better to shoot at them with missiles on choppers before they get that close, or if things have gone poopie just bomb them in port. These speed boats are just that, they don’t have any endurance, they can’t keep them out on the water for days on end.

      • adam

        assuming you know that they are comming and you have permission to fire when thay are far away. with the Rules Of Engagment are usualy so strict, you can “see the whites of their eyes” before you can shoot them. so a mini VLS shooting helfire, brimstone or griffen would be good, but i would not give up my phalanx (the USNs gun CWIS) or 57mm auto cannon, or lots and lots of crew served weapons.

    • Mat

      90% of iranian speedboats are little more than sporting boats armed with small arms , unguided rockets and guided antitank missles .These are more or less cannonfoder , on the other hand they have some small missle armed patrol boats that can engage targets at longer range 10-15 miles and some of these missles have big enough warhead to threaten even the largest ships. These are the ones that are a real threat , the problem you can have a turkeyshoot but it takes only one or two of these to make it trough to inflicts serious damage ,remember hormuz straight is only cca 20 miles wide at its narrowest . Which means even old 60’s generation land based antiship missles can cover it.

  • Chops

    Would’nt it be great if the A10 was carrier capable for this kind of job?

    • orly?

      For the space of one A10, you can probably have two F/A jets.

      Space and flexibility are key.

      • Chops

        True,but if the A10 had been designed for carrier ops I’m sure it would have foldable wings.

        • orly?

          Why would you need a naval A10 in a modern navy?

    • blight_

      Not enough space on a carrier to devote to a aircraft designed exclusively to engage small boats. Wouldn’t send an A-10 against a ship with CIWS or RAM…yeech!

      • FormerDirtDart

        Would you send any airplane directly against a ship with CIWS or RAM? That counter argument doesn’t hold a lot of weight.
        Now, not that I’m supporting magical “what if” wonder/antiquated long out of production weapons (Spads, Mustangs, hover board bound howitzers….on, and on, and on)

    • tony

      marry to the Osprey

  • vok

    Did the Navy ever considered adopting a navalized GMLRS as viable anti-ship weapon? Lockheed internally funded development adds a terminal seeker for dealing with moving land or maritime targets, and foldable wing extends missile range beyond 60 miles. Small to medium sized enemy surface combatants all covered. That would be a nice toy to have on chronically under gunned LCS.

    • STemplar

      I’m sure the USN is considering a lot of stuff since NLOS went belly up. Here’s hoping they pick something that works and doesn’t cost a fortune.

    • Chuck

      Actually, a land based anti-ship GMLRS would be more likely, assuming we were interested in coastal defense.

    • El Sid

      Lots of people have looked at navalising GMLRS over the years – the Germans did a lot of work on it but there were just too many problems – most notably with the corrosive exhaust. Some Soviet ‘phibs had a BM-21 launcher, not quite on the same level of sophistication though.

      If you’re wanting something light and navalised then the obvious option is the AMOS 120mm twin mortar found on some Swedish CB90 boats.

      Brimstone makes a lot of sense for naval use – in particular the salvo mode intended for massed formations of Russian tanks has obvious applications against boat swarms. A pair of Tornado launched a salvo of 22 Brimstones against an armoured column in Libya – they do all the clever stuff of prioritising targets, and obviously mmW radar won’t be fooled by smokescreens unlike Griffin.

  • BlackOwl18E

    Anyone here remember JAGM? It was supposed to be our equivalent to a Brimstone missile. The F/A-18E/F could carry 12 of them. It was the ideal air-to-ground missile. It got canceled in a round of defense cuts. We should have kept that thing.

    • 4FingerOfBouron

      BlackOwl18Echo? What is 18E? MOS for sewing machine operator? We all know you love the F18. Alot.Alot alot alot…

      • BlackOwl18E

        I love what is useful and ideal for our services. The F-35A is that jet for the USAF. A Harrier III would be that jet for the USMC. The F/A-18E/F is that jet for the USN. I don’t love a specific jet. I love the IDEAL jet for the needs of the services. I actually wanted to use 11 or 11A first instead of 18E since it’s my favorite number for a reason I will not specify. I used 18E after I found out that 11 and 11A were already taken. Aside from that I also wanted it to be clear that I am the REAL Black Owl since that imposter appeared on that last F-35 article.

  • PolicyWonk

    Vendors love missiles because they are expensive – and hate guns because bullets are really cheap. For defense against small boats – several chain guns will all but boil the ocean – and save money.

    • Riceball

      You’re forgetting one thing, guns are cheaper than missiles but missiles have a longer range than guns and as in all combat, the further out you can destroy your target the better. This is especially true against a swarm of small boats armed with short ranged weapons, the further out you take them out the more time you have to do so and any that manage to get through your initial ring of defense can still be taken out by your second ring defenses (ie guns) before they get within their own weapons range; you rely solely on guns as your first ring of defense you’re down to small arms as your secondary ring and by that time they’d be within range of their own weapons and a Burke costs a whole lot more than a single missile does.

    • blight_

      Guns were more expensive than longbows…and here we are. Though to be fair, guns are cheaper than a knight’s plate-mail armor, and they obviously didn’t make the cut.

  • Lance

    I still think for US forces F-15Es and F/A-18s armed with AGM-65s will do the job as well.

  • jsallison

    I guess dusting off 20mm Oerlikons laying around from WWII would just be so not cool.

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      And exactly how many small moving targets (or even big moving targets) at 1-2 mile range have you successfully engaged with an Oerlikon? Please tell – as the Ferengi say, we’re all ears…

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen

    • blight_

      And Sopwiths would be even less cool.

      That said, it may be time to bring back the Torpedo Boat Destroyer to protect our nations dreadnaughts.

    • Chuck

      An ATGM launched from a speedboat could provide a good standoff distance that would meke the 29mm not so useful.

  • Jack

    Isn’t Boeing a sub-contractor to the Brimstone missile?

  • Jinxsowner

    Back in the Falklands war. The British had good luck with thier Harriers with external
    20 mm. cannon pods. Mainly against ground targets. The Harriers sound like a practical solution since it it already in service. Harriers can land on a variety of our ships. I quite sure that there are some Marines who would love the opportunity to dispose of some
    fast moving challenging targets.

    • blight_

      Helicopters might be more friendly to the deck of a ship.

  • Guest

    Longbow Block 3 is the fielded solution to this mission. Can fire any type of Hellfire ( laser or MMW), 30mm cannon, or 2.75″ rockets (MPSM or flechette are good alternatives for this). These are all weapons classes that are discussed for this mission, and are fully integrated into the airframe. Also equipped with an extended range Fire Control Radar, with a maritime targeting mode. Training: The crews are already trained to deal with multiple small targets. Facilities: The units typically are operated from austere land areas, shipboard compatible, or even converted barges. They can be flexibly based close to the fight. Doctrine: AH64 units have been conducting overwater attack missions for two decades, and are experienced with the mission.

    • blight_

      Wonder if an Apache can operate from a carrier. Though since the Marines already have Cobras, the better question might be whether the Marines can put a Cobra on a DDG to deal with stereotypical small boats. Or use UAVs and Standards to take them out…

      • Guest

        Longbow Block 3 is also shipboard compatible. Previous versions have conducted shipboard ops.

        Now I dont think the Iranian swarm mission necessarily *requires* shipboard ops, but that is my opinion. Units can be operated from the land areas close by.

        Cobras could be operated the the same way ( KW has done so already historically). But the AB3 is alot more capable than any of those alternatives, and I suppose it really depends upon how many boats you expect in the swarm.

        • blight_

          it’s possible that we may be in another Earnest Will scenario escorting Gulf tankers, in which case having a helicopter on hand is worth two in the bush. Something like a FFG would be nice, but I question if the Navy will have funds left to keep FFGs around for their convoy escort mission (and without twin arm, why bother?)

          In the end, the matter may boil down to using something like an HC-130 with UAVs. If a HC-130 could communicate with Predators with Hellfires, use them to take out small boat targets. Local control eliminates the pesky satellite latency, and Predators can be pushed to the HC-130 by operators at Creech from the numerous UAV bases that seem to be popping up around the world out of sight, out of mind…

        • Hotdog Powerboats are mini power boat go-fast replicas that smlioybze the heart-throbbing thrill you find in today’s high-performance crafts.These sporty novelty boats yield tons of fun for the whole family.

  • Kipperbeck

    My choice would be the CBU-105 Sensor Fused Weapon with Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD) or a variation of the sub-munitions (skeets) that would attack only small craft with a blast effect vice armored piercing as with the current fom of the weapon. Its advertised that a single B-52 could destroy an entire armored division using the current form of the CBU-105.

    • peter davidson

      Was thinking CBU97, but yes, it does seem to be the logical choice for taking out multiple, fairly slow moving targets.
      like they say “Great minds think alike”

  • Yeesh, what about a good old fashion quad 50 cal ma duce? I know having the latest and greatest is a soldier’s (or in this case sailor’s) dream but more complex things means just more instances to fail. Particularly out the in open seas with no concern for collatoral damage.

    • funnyGuy

      Haha quad 50s.

      Just put a squadron of p51d on each carrier …… problem solved.


    • blight_

      Put some marines in the rigging to shoot their officers

    • Riceball

      One word, range. An M2 is good to about 2,000 yards, that doesn’t exactly give you a lot of stand off distance from a swarm of small boats. While 2,000 yards 1,800 meters is better than the 200 of an RPG-7 which is the likely primary armament of small boats it still doesn’t give you much time to take out all of the boats in a swarm before they get within RPG range.

      • FormerDirtDart

        Ummm…RPG primary weapon? You, like many others, have made the mistake of thinking the “small boat swarm” is a bunch of boston whalers with RPKs and RPGs. Sure, the Republican Guard are zipping around in over 1000 light craft (radar clutter/suicide). But, the Iranian Navy has a couple hundred real life missile and torpedo fast attack boats (the RG has a few handfuls of these also)

    • greensborovet

      I love the 50 cal but the sailors and marines need something with longer range and heavier rounds to take out those boats before they get in missile range or close enough to ram/denonate against a ship.

  • RCDC

    I think Iran, China, and Russia, all have more than 100 missile boats each. Probably the longbow helo is a good candidate to carry those for defense.

  • Johnny Ranger

    I wonder how the RAM/SeaRAM would work against a swarm of small boats? I know its warhead is probably optimized for AA (i.e., small), but then again, these ain’t battleships we’re talking about here…

  • Mike

    Whatever happened to a mandatory review of MiL-Hnbk 300 to see if a like system already exists in the inventory? Probably a half dozen systems with similar or like capabilities in DoD.

  • Infidel4LIFE


  • DWCrawford

    Dudes, ever see what happens to fast moving, small boats when you drop and detonate explosives of any type in the water near them? They sink. This does not require an expensive solution to a very low tech problem. Loud hailer calling out “stay away from my ship”. They don’t comply, they sink and die. PROBLEM SOLVED.

  • peter davidson

    if you were to apply the same problem of fast attack boats to, say, apc`s or mast moving armoured vehicles, the choice of weapon would be the CBU97 sensor fused weapon! does the Navy have any plans to develop their own version specifically designed for defending against (for instance) Iran`s fast attack boats?
    Seems like its technology not being used to its full potential.
    Regards Peter Davidson