Military Capabilities

Analysis: How the RAF will target IS

26 September 2014
The RAF are expected to use Tornado GR.4s equipped with MBDA Dual Mode Brimstone to perform strikes against mobile IS targets in Iraq. Credit: Crown Copyright

The introduction of RAF Tornado aircraft in a strike role will provide the coalition with an enhanced capability to engage moving targets through the use of MBDA’s Dual Mode Brimstone (DMB) missile. DMB features both Semi-Active Laser (SAL) and MMW radar guidance, providing a greater ability to strike fast moving targets such as vehicles, both lightweight and armoured. This was demonstrated to great effect during the air operation against Libyan forces in 2011.

Whilst the US has been able to engage vehicles in Iraq through the use of Semi-Active Laser guided munitions, such as the Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition (LJDAM), a single aircraft can only engage one moving target at a time due to the need to designate the target from weapons launch through to impact.

With MMW radar guidance several Brimstone weapons can be used from a single aircraft to engage multiple targets due to its fire-and-forget capability. This will provide a huge advantage when targeting Islamic State vehicles with the ability to target both convoys and fast moving, fleeting targets that were previously harder to strike. This will have serious impact on Islamic States’ ability to manoeuvre. Weapons such as Raytheon’s Paveway IV are also expected to play a key role in any UK strikes, using dual GPS and laser guidance to accurately strike targets as they have done in previous strikes in Afghanistan and Libya.

Storm Shadow and Tomahawk Cruise Missiles

The other two weapons the UK has at its disposal for long range strikes are the Tornado’s Storm Shadow cruise missile, manufactured by MBDA, and of course submarine launched Tomahawk cruise missiles. These provide the ability to conduct stand-off strikes against targets potentially deemed inaccessible to aircraft due to air defences. The use of these weapons is less likely at this stage of the operation because strikes in recent days have demonstrated that aircraft appear to be able to operate with impunity. Cruise missiles are predominately used during the initial phases of any operation against pre-planned targets as we saw during the first strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Monday.

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