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The US Air Force is looking at equipping its General Atomics Reaper unmanned aircraft with a British-developed, man-in-the-loop missile better able to reduce collateral damage than the current weapons carried by the machine, according to sources.
According to Defense News Britain’s dual-mode Brimstone missile is being evaluated by the Air Force’s secretive Big Safari Group “We are currently working together through the Big Safari Group in rapid-prototyping a UK weapon, Brimstone, on a US platform,” Dunne told the audience of senior executives and government officials.
The 645th Aeronautical Systems Group, better known as “Big Safari,” is a rapid acquisition office based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The group is known for its work on unmanned and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems, and is widely credited with the decision to arm Predator drones for use in Afghanistan.
The General Atomics-built UAV is widely used by the US Air Force, the CIA and other special operations units for surveillance and strike missions.
Its use in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere to take out high-value Taliban and al-Qaida leaders has caused controversy, especially since the drone strikes often kill civilians, as well.
MBDA, Brimstone’s maker, declined to comment, referring all questions to the UK Defence Ministry. The US Air Force said it was unable to respond in time.
Doug Barrie, the senior air analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said that having struggled to come up with a weapon of their own in this class, the US Air Force’s purchase of Brimstone would be an effective tool.
“Brimstone on Reaper, with its option for man-in-the-loop guidance, would give you all the benefits the weapon gives fixed-wing strike aircraft crews,” he said. “It would be an effective quick fix, able to give Reaper users the added security of a dual-mode system that they don’t get on some other weapons. If the deal goes ahead, I wouldn’t be surprised if the [British Royal Air Force’s] Reaper force ends up being similarly equipped.”
A US purchase would see the wheel come full circle for MBDA. Brimstone was originally developed based on the US-made Hellfire missile that it would replace.
Brimstone is in service aboard Royal Air Force Tornado strike jets, and is expected to be integrated onto the Eurofighter Typhoon combat jet at some point.
The missile is effective against static and moving targets, and MBDA is developing an improved version known as Brimstone 2, as well as working on a maritime variant able to take out small fast-patrol craft.
The weapon came to prominence during the Libya campaign in 2011, when it was used to destroy targets hiding among houses without damaging the dwellings. It also has been successfully used for several years against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Royal Air Force chiefs revealed during the height of the Libyan campaign that the US and France had expressed an interest in Brimstone.