MBDA Adapts Brimstone to Target Swarming Fast Attack Craft

brimstone sea spearPARIS — A missile used primarily to kill tanks could soon protect the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship from swarming fast attack craft.

MBDA Missile Systems has adapted the well known Brimstone missile to specifically target fast attack craft while being fired from a naval vessel, officials said Wednesday at the Paris Air Show.

On May 29, the company completed a test in which it fired three Brimstone Sea Spears hitting two static vessels and one vessel moving 20 knots near Scotland. Encouraged by the demonstration, MBDA is looking to market the naval weapon to countries such as the U.S. and U.K.

The U.K. already fires the Dual Mode Brimstone from their Tornados. The missile has received notoriety for its performance in Afghanistan and Libya. U.S. officials have shown interest in potentially firing them from the Reaper.

The Sea Spear is the first variant of the Brimstone designed to be fired from a naval vessel. The missile tracks the target with a millimeter waver seeker eliminating the potential of losing the target behind the crests of the waves.

MBDA designed it as a fire-and-forget missile that can eliminate swarming targets autonomously. It is a canister-launched missile that can be mounted to a building or a naval vessel as small as 14 meters.

Douglas Denneny, a vice president for MBDA based in Washington D.C., said the Sea Spear could protect the Navy’s new LCS fleet from the fast attack boats driven by the Iranian navy.

Those interested in the Sea Spear won’t have to wait. MBDA officials Frank Morgan and Mark Sheehan said the naval missile system is available immediately.

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.
  • Big-Dean

    So image if you will, a swarm of 20 fast boats coming at your LCS. You start firing off your ($250K each) missile at them and you’ll probably achieve a 40% hit rate but your magazine is soon empty and now are within heavy machine gun range, rockets and rpgs

    You’re already doing Mach speed but that doens’t matter one bit, soon your taking machine gun fire on the bridge and in the engine room, the bullet easily shred the thin aluminum skin and fires break out, a rpg hit near the water line and takes out one of the gas turbines in a huge explosion, the entire bridge crew is dead as machine gun fire tears it apart, the fast boats are now circling and laughing like Hyenas, most of the crew is already dead, “help” is on the way but it’s too late, the fast boat swarm quickly leaves the area and the survivors to the sharks

    • change

      You’re forgetting the Mk 110 57mm main deck gun plus the 30mm auto gun likely to be mounted on any LCS doing inshore duty. With those two weapons plus missiles like the Brimstone, the LCS should be able to keep swarms far enough away to avoid much battle damage. Those swarming speed boats will be bouncing all over the water throwing aims high and low. The LCS with its stablized aiming systems plus fire and forget should be able to defeat the scenario you represent. If only the LCS could do more than defeat cigarette boats.

    • SJE

      Its nice to have something ready to go, but these are relatively large, expensive, and with HEAT warheads for destroying tanks. Seems like overkill for most boats, and could not handle the swarms as well. Can’t someone adapt a smaller missile for this purpose?

    • RedCell2

      Big Dean,

      The LCS won’t be there alone at the mercy of these “sea hyena” small boats, which will be tracked long before they get to the ship.

      Before the “swarm” arrives within range of an LCS they will already themselves be “swarmed” by Army attack helicopters, attack UAS, and Naval Air. What remains of these Boston Whalers and similar can then be decisively engaged by the LCS on-board weapons. You’ll see a lot more flotsam and jetsam from the small boat swarm than anything else.

    • Big Ellie

      If you have ever expierenced a swarm attack, you know that once you engage them, they will split, turn tail and depart the area. Not to mention if an LCS is part of an ARG or a BG, air assets are airborne constantly, crew served ships weapons will be on station, and as a last resort, you could have hose teams. Ships force will defend to the death unlike cowardly attackers.

    • Mastro

      What is the Sea Spear’s range? If its roughly the Griffin’s puny 4 mile range- yeah- this could happen

      If its 15-20 miles- I don’t think its as big a deal.

    • paperpushermj

      20 fast boats swarming are best attacked with fast movers dropping cluster bombs in my opinion.

  • The Old Bear

    This is Brimstone’s replacement: http://www.mbda-systems.com/products/air-dominanc
    According to the latest Jane’s Rocket and Missiles magazine:
    “MBDA aims SPEAR towards Common Anti-surface Modular Missile
    MBDA has commenced privately-funded study activity to examine the potential for ground-launched and shipborne variants of its projected SPEAR air-launched extended range precision-guided weapon. Working under the internal programme title Common Anti-surface Modular Missile (CAsMM), the company is exploring how derivatives of SPEAR could be applicable to indirect fire precision attack requirements in the land and maritime domains.”
    This missile is supposed to have a range of 75nm according to the MOD specification.

    • Guest

      MBDA SPEAR & Brimstone SEA SPEAR are two different systems. SPEAR is a turbojet powered small diameter, sizer winged air-to-ground missile, & Brimstone SEA SPEAR is a solid fuel Hellfire missile derivative.

  • hibeam

    I have two words for you. Lasers! Lasers!

  • PolicyWonk

    Defense contractors love missiles because they’re expensive. And they hate guns because they’re cheap. The LCS needs to be up-gunned.

    If the LCS is going to get missiles, they should get something that it can use against a serious adversary.

  • Stan

    Shouldn’t need an expensive missile to take out speedboats. Automated cannons should be more the enough to do the trick. The ideal system literally should require a targeting officer to plant his finger on a touchscreen to direct the system’s attention to a target and have it take care of the rest with a few smart round airbursts.

  • Taylor

    One flaw in the thinking with the missiles is that unless we are already at war with Iran their boats can get pretty close without us shooting at them I would guess. They would get the first shots off from close range. After that I guess we could start using the missiles at long range to keep them away, but what would be our losses from the first attacks? Wonder what the shortest range is and how many boats can be taken out in a hurry at short range?

  • hibeam

    These missiles will only be used after we have carefully ascertained that no fish will be annoyed. –Your Commander in Golf.

  • Nicky

    Which is why we need to bring back a ship that is more heavily armed like a World War II Fletcher/Sumner/gearing class Destroyer. Let’s see what would happen if those swarm boats try to get past them

    • IronV

      Said boats would be obliterated… similarly, if Somali pirates attempted to hijack a WWII Attack Troop or Cargo Transport, they wouldn’t have a chance.

    • tiger

      Interesting comparison. The LCS 2 is about the same displacement, longer hull, more beam as a Fletcher class. Yet the Fletcher out guns it, has more range, And can do all warfare missions.

    • PolicyWonk

      What I find very ironic, is that what is called the LCS (in either variant) fails to take into account the hard-learned lessons of fighting in the littorals in WW2. What those battles lacked w/r/t size, they more than made up for in sheer intensity.

      Originally, the LCS was supposed to wipe out swarming speedboats. If thats the problem they were looking to solve, then a ship that costs $400M is effin’ nuts. If they wanted to replace frigates, then its still effin’ nuts, because the LCS is woefully underarmed and unprotected. Many in the navy feel it isn’t likely even to be able to survive a real sea-frame level-1 test (and FFG’s were designed to the navy level 2 standard).
      Adm. Samuel Perez made these comments (from Defense INdustry Daily):
      “Armament: Perez shares Copeman’s reservations about the LCS’ armament, and points out that Iran alone has 67 Fast Attack Craft that carry anti-ship missiles with a range of over 5 miles. Any one of them can strike LCS ships without direct retaliation, and deliver disabling hits.”

      Not exactly confidence inspiring.

      Here the link to the entire article.

      • d. kellogg

        Back in the early days of LCS, I remember cost discussions, and where the LCS plus mission modules costs now, we could’ve bought for the same price range a Spanish F100 Aegis/SPY/MK41 VLS equipped frigate that actually has the ability to fight it out in the littorals.
        Granted, an F100 won’t sail in 15 feet of water, but I doubt any LCS ever will, either.

      • Big-Dean

        hahaha, great reference

        I love how the alternative Lockhead versions actually have weapons on them!

  • EW3

    I’d like to be packing Hydra 70s (aka APKWS) if I were on an LCS dealing with swarm attacks. Prefer to put four 19 round launcers together with a laser designator as a package. Put two of these packages on an LCS and you’re going to add a lot of firepower at reasonable cost.

    • d. kellogg

      There are various seekerhead systems out there other than just laser guidance that are perfectly suited to 70mm rockets.
      IR and EO/TV guidance would be just as usefulin many situations.
      And there are several rocket motor types that vary range according to warhead weight, carrying considerably farther than any Javelin or Griffin.

      Query CVR7, Skyfire 70, etc.

  • Big-Dean

    Nicky, you just don’t get it do you, The LCS is so powerful it could take out a WWII destroyer or even a battleship, so swarms of small fast boats are just mere flies to the mighty LCS and it’s all powerful 57mm. So to suggest that the LCS isn’t all powerful will get you lot of thumbs down here by the LCS mafia

    You’ve got to get on the LCS bandwagon and cheer for the mighty LCS ;-P

    Let’s see how many thumbs down I get here

  • Belesari

    Um the brimstone has a range of 7.5 miles………so if something were to get within range of the LCS to where it can fire them the LCS would then be in range of most of their weapons.

    Sorry with a k:D ratio of 4/1 they still can cripple the navy.

  • Tony C.

    Seems to me that an updated CIWS would be more cost effective? The US Navy is retiring the CIWS as an indiscriminite killer, but in a boat swarm that is what you want.

  • d. kellogg

    one note:
    “Those interested in the Sea Spear won’t have to wait. MBDA officials Frank Morgan and Mark Sheehan said the naval missile system is available immediately.”

    That simply won’t do, not for the USN.
    If it doesn’t have provision for otherwise useless Brass to occupy PEO/project manager and team leader seats and stuff up the program for several months or more, and unnecessarily waste money, and has no corporate career opportunities for said Brass upon leaving the USN, then it isn’t suitable for the Navy.

    This isn’t about an actual weapon system with the kind of performance this ship is sorely lacking; it’s about post-service job security for outbound officers for the length of time these ships will be in service.

  • blight_

    LCS will need to deploy a cloud of unmanned speedboats with machineguns and anti-ship missiles (or anti-tank missiles, I suppose) to defeat the Iranian threat as far away from the LCS as possible; and in turn, as far away from the bigger ships as possible.

  • elizzar

    another obvious thought – wouldn’t you also use ship-launched, air-to-surface armed helicopters in such a role, far ahead of any ships to intercept and destroy said swarm? in which case ciws / ram / brimstone / frikkin’ sharks with frikkin’ lasers remain the last-ditch defence for anything that sneaks through? and you’d hope this wasn’t much! i think this is how they are dealing with some of the pirate attacks ~somalia, RoE slightly different i guess cos they need to confirm small ship is a pirate and not a poor old fisherman!

  • SPL

    The weapon of choice to deal with the “swarm threat” is an APKWS-armed gunship… the LCS only will have to deal with the leakers (if any).

  • Joe Nukem

    The Phalanx Missile Defense System should be adequate enough to retask for a swarm of small craft. At 6,000 Rounds Per Minute (100 per sec) the time on each target need not be more that 3.0 secs or less with mildly accurate aiming. Range can be “at horizon” almost. at 6 -10 Miles range what can the little Iranian boats do? Does not 30 mm have proximity fuse capability?

    Want a “Swarm” to defend against a Swarm? What about Metal Storm? (check it out)

  • d. kellogg

    Two models of the Phalanx exist: both using the 6-barrel M61 series 20mm gun,
    the early models fire at 3000rpm, the newer Block 1B has longer barrels, is identifiable by its barrel brace (and a slightly longer ammo drum underneath), and fires no more than 4500rpm.
    None of the Phalanx fire at 6000rpm, and both models only fire in bursts, not sustained, as they would empty out too quickly.
    Even service with the Centurion, the name for the ground-based C-RAM variant of Phalanx, doesn’t fire at 6000rpm.

    The 30mm system is Goalkeeper, using the 7-barrel GAU-7 famous in the A-10.
    It fires at a maximum of 4200rpm, but again, also only in bursts, not a sustained rate.
    And while yes, there are programmable airburst munitions developed for the same 30x173mm ammunition class the GAU-8 uses, none of the barrels in any GAU-8 mount ANYWHERE are fitted with the muzzle-mounted induction programmers to program the shells before exiting the barrels (the complexities to incorporate the coils and wiring to the muzzles would be just too difficult in a rotary cannon).

  • paperpushermj

    In my opinion the best way to handle swarming fast boats is to have your fast movers drop cluster bombs on them. You don’t really need to be accurate like with a missile

  • STemplar

    I’m just curious how much DoD will spend to fight, what in reality is one fight, that might occur in one waterway on this planet, and will last one day, before US airpower swoops in and destroys that nation’s military, regardless of the outcome of the initial fight.

    I’m not opposed to being prepared and all but frankly the US military already possesses more than enough firepower to annihilate the Revolutionary Guard naval forces to the microscopic level.

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