Britain’s sophisticated air-to-surface Brimstone missiles have not killed any terrorists in Syria so far, although at least nine missiles have been fired. A single missile using radar homing and laser guidance technology costs £100,000.
The Huffington Post UK made a freedom of information (FOI) request to the British Defense Ministry and discovered the much-touted Brimstone missiles with promised standalone precision have not claimed any terrorist scalps yet.
After British MPs voted in favor of the Royal Air Force joining the Syria campaign in December, the expensive missiles were held back for at least the first month of operations.
Brimstone’s first recorded deployment took place on January 10, the Independent reports. It was aimed against terrorist supply trucks in Raqqa. By the end of January, Brimstone missiles had been used in nine raids.
“We are playing a crucial role in a campaign that will take time and patience. Using the right weapon for each scenario, RAF jets have struck Daesh [Arabic acronym for Islamic State] almost 600 times,” a British MoD spokeswoman said, adding that the RAF is driving Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) out of Sinjar and Ramadi in Iraq and has “severely weakened”key terrorist infrastructure in Syria.
According to MoD information, between December 2, 2015 and January 29, 2016, RAF airstrikes in Syria have managed to deplete IS manpower by just seven combatants. Two jihadists were killed with Paveway IV laser-guided bombs (US$20,000 each) and five were killed by US-made Hellfire missiles ($70,000 apiece) fired from Reaper UAVs.
The British MoD insists that killing terrorists is not a primary goal of the RAF in Syria. Instead, the aim is to target jihadist infrastructure, such as oil fields under terrorist control, to disrupt and degrade Islamic State’s military infrastructure, logistics’ routes and revenues.
Yet razing stationary oil extraction infrastructure does not require expensive precision weapons – an old-fashioned drop bomb would do the job.
Brimstone missiles have an 11-kilometer range and are armed with a low-powered yet “highly focused” explosive warhead. They can engage targets moving as fast as 110 km/h. That means that in theory no terrorist pickup truck with a machine-gun mounted on it can escape. However, the target’s worth is practically guaranteed to be many times lower than the price of the weapon.
Ahead of the RAF joining the campaign in Syria, British Prime Minister David Cameron praised Brimstone as a tool to “cut off the ‘head of the snake’” in the terrorists’ self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. MP Sir Gerland Howarth said Brimstone missiles represented a “key difference between us and other coalition partners,” hinting that neither the US nor France have such missiles to deal with jihadists. Conservative minister David Jones simply described the weapons as “unique.”
The combat effectiveness of the new weapon and the cost of participation in the Syrian campaign urgently needs objective evaluation, according to the Scottish National Party (SNP) MP, Alex Salmond. As the party’s international affairs spokesman in Westminster, he said the Huffington Post’s findings “contrast dramatically” with David Cameron’s previous argument.
“It is now the common practice of this prime minister to mislead the country into military engagement and then to only devote a passing interest towards these crucial issues as his case crumbles before our eyes,” Salmon said, stressing that he has “no doubt” that Libya is going to be the “new crucial theater of engagement” once again.
The only operators of the Brimstone weapon are the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia, which is not only playing a role in the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition, but has also announced the creation of an anti-terrorist coalition of its own.
The Royal Air Force in Syria can only deploy Brimstone missiles from older Tornado jets, which carry both Brimstone missiles and Paveway bombs. The newer Typhoons jets drop Paveway bombs and have not been modernized to fire Brimstone missiles. British Reaper UAVs brought from Washington use American-made Hellfire missiles and bombs.