MBDA Systems, a European defense company, wants to pack six of their Brimstone missiles onto small drones that can drive forward into the fray and absolutely annihilate enemy armor formations in a full-scale conflict. The development could spell victory, or at least survival, for vulnerable NATO states in Eastern Europe.
The Brimstone missile is Europe's equivalent of the Hellfire missile. Like the Hellfire, it's designed to take out tanks and other armored targets, it can be fired with different seeker and warheads, and it's battle-tested, especially in the Middle East. Now, its manufacturer has packed an insane number of them into small, all-terrain drones that could break apart Russian armor formations.
First, a quick background on the threat. While the U.S. is torn between competing threats in the Middle East, China, and Russia, Europe has a clear top priority in Russia. Europe gets a ton of energy from Russia, but the relationship is tense.
Russia has already invaded Ukraine twice, and it's still supporting separatists in the Donbas region of that country. It has also allegedly violated the territorial sovereignty of Estonia by kidnapping an intelligence officer. (Russia claims the capture happened on their side of the border, Estonia disagrees, and U.S. and NATO intelligence backs Estonia.)
And Russia rattles its sabers every time a Baltic state or Eastern European country makes stronger ties with the U.S. or NATO. So if you were a small European country, especially one north of the Suwalki Gap, where Russia can amputate part of Europe with a 60-mile armored thrust, countering Russian forces is a major part of your defense needs.
Russia still has the largest fleet of armored land vehicles in the world, with an estimated 22,000 combat tanks, according to GlobalFirepower.com. The largest European armored fleet in NATO comes from Turkey with about 3,200 tanks, and it's moving into a Russian orbit. The total tank force of European NATO countries only totals a little over 11,000. Adding the U.S. and Canadian armored fleets only gets NATO to about 18,000 tanks.
So, yeah, Russia's massive armored forces could cause legitimate heartburn in the rest of Europe. No one wants to be the next Ukraine or the next Georgia. (Russia successfully annexed a portion of Georgia in a 2008 invasion.)
But how do you brush back Russia without an armored corps, a massive attack helicopter fleet, or some other costly investment?
Well, if you need to intimidate an armored corps and can't afford hundreds of attack helicopters with air-to-ground anti-tank missiles, maybe you could just put those missiles on a small drone on the ground.
"This cassette magazine, with its high weapon loadout, is optimised to counter mass armour," said Andy Allen, MBDA U.K. Head of Land Domain Sales and Business Development. "Pairing the combat-proven MBDA Brimstone missile with a flexible and mission deployed UGV such as the Milrem Robotics' THeMIS provides the tactical commander with the capability to rapidly and remotely deliver high volumes of precision anti-armour effects, importantly in all weathers, against all known DAS and at extended ranges."
At least that's the logic behind the pairing of the Brimstone missile and the MILREM Robotics THeMIS unmanned ground vehicle. The resulting product looks a bit like WALL-E if you switched out the cute eyes and body for a six-pack of
The THeMIS UGV is an unmanned infantry support vehicle, and MILREM Robotics sells it in a number of configurations, from transport to remote weapon platform to explosive ordnance disposal. But the most robust anti-tank version on MILREM's website has a single Javelin missile. MBDA's proposal would pack six Brimstones instead.
This could be especially potent when MILREM finishes the "swarming" control protocol that's currently in development.
And Europe might invest in the solution. Europe is already heavily invested in Brimstone, and some countries already own a few THeMIS, so a paired solution shouldn't be an insanely hard sell. So, hey, next time you head to Europe for an exercise, you might see a European soldier with a loyal attack robot following him. An attack robot with six tank-killing missiles.
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