For a long time, the United States was the only country in the world carrying out drone strikes. It wasn’t until 2008 that the United Kingdom began carrying out drone strikes on its own.
Now here’s a glimpse at what may be Britain’s future drone-launched missile. At least, it’s a glimpse of what happened after an MQ-9 Reaper fired a pair of flamboyantly-named Brimstone missiles at two remotely-operated trucks.
It’s a potent symbol of Britain’s expanding drone program—and another sign that the means to carry out sophisticated unmanned operations are spreading beyond U.S. borders.
The above photographs show just two of nine high-speed, maneuvering vehicles blown up by the drone during a series of tests in December and January at the U.S. Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California. At least one vehicle was traveling at 70 miles per hour.
The Royal Air Force’s Air Warfare Center Unmanned Air Systems Test and Evaluation Squadron conducted the experiments on behalf of the British Ministry of Defense.
The U.S. Air Force’s secretive intel workshop Big Safari was also involved, along with defense contractor General Atomics and European missile manufacturer MBDA.
Britain hasn’t yet deployed the missile on its Reaper drones, which are used today in Afghanistan and are equipped with less-capable Hellfire missiles. But the tests are a sign Whitehall is considering the possibility. However, British Tornado jets are equipped with Brimstone and used the weapon during the 2011 air war over Libya.
The missile has a relatively short range—at only 7.5 miles—and uses a millimeter-wave radar seeker with a semi-active laser to enable final guidance to its target. It’s also perfect for attacking small targets, individuals, buildings and fast-moving vehicles.
The California tests were “middle of the envelope” tests, according to an MBDA press release.
That means Brimstone was released from around 20,000 feet, “with the platform being remotely piloted in operationally representative beyond line of sight conditions, with tracking and designation of targets being conducted in a mixture of manual-track and auto-track modes,” the release stated.
Now we see just how lethal—and accurate—it can be.