Spotted at industry confab: Quadcopter equipped with Brit missiles Ukraine is so fond of
BAE falls over itself to stress it's only a hypothetical serving suggestion
Updated UK-designed missiles used extensively by Ukrainian forces amid the ongoing Russian occupation have been spotted attached to a giant quadcopter drone able to carry 300kg (661 lbs) while maintaining a range of 30 km (18 miles).
Specifically, a T-650 drone developed by British arms manufacturer BAE Systems and Malloy Aeronautics, was seen tooled up with Brimstone II precision missiles, each of which carry a 6.3kg conventional shaped-charge warhead and have a range of up to 60 km (37 miles).
This combo was clocked at the Defence Vehicles Dynamics conference last week, with the quadcopter bearing three missiles, which weigh in at 50kg apiece, and reach the upper limit of their range when fired from the air instead of a ground-based launcher. Hence why attaching them to a drone is useful.
[BAE has since said this was just a demonstration of what might be possible, and that the T-650 is still in development with no plans to be used in Ukraine; see update below – ed.]
The missiles are particularly deadly due to their dual-homing capabilities: they can find their own targets by detecting mmwave radar signals and can also be laser-guided to targets. While the explosive payload on a Brimstone II is smaller than the similarly designed US Hellfire missile, the lighter weight allows the Brimstone to reach far higher speeds and be fired from faster aircraft.
MBDA, a consortium that manufactures the Brimstone family, also showed off at the conference surface-based launchers able to fire up to eight missiles at a time each. These launchers were seen attached to a Boxer armored military vehicle and a light-weight Supacat high-mobility vehicle. MBDA said it is developing the Brimstone into a "one missile, multi-platform" system.
The UK government has sent Brimstones to Ukraine in its fight against Russia, and intends to send more. Due to a lack of other hardware, though, Ukrainian soldiers have been turning civilian vehicles into makeshift military trucks from which they can launch their UK-sourced weaponry.
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Missiles launched from drones are a different ballgame, with most unmanned aerial vehicles used by both sides in the Ukraine war designed not to deliver missiles but spot targets for artillery strikes – a job traditionally done by humans and among the most hazardous military occupations.
Ukrainian forces have also reportedly made wide use of kamikaze drones: cheap, off-the-shelf hardware able to carry a large enough bundle of explosives to act as a remote-control bomb.
Whether precision air-to-ground Brimstone strikes will be hitting Ukrainian battle fields soon remains unknown. There doesn't appear to be an official timetable for the release of the T-650 or its missile-equipped loadout. When the T-650 was previewed last year a BAE representative said that it hoped to have the craft available for customers by 2023. ®
Updated to add
A spokesperson for BAE has been in touch to stress that the missile-equipped quadcopter seen at the defense conference was just a hypothetical demonstration, that the T-650 is still in development, that there is no plan to hook it up with Brimstone II missiles, and that there is no plan to send it to Ukraine.
What was seen at the event was supposed to "illustrate how that type of weapon could be integrated onto that type of vehicle. There is no plan to integrate the Brimstone onto the T-650," we're told. We're happy to clarify this point.