Though it has been a growing development pattern in airborne platforms, Brimstone armed Mission Masters at DSEI point to ground warfare following this pattern.

At DSEI 2021, in the shadow of the AUKUS announcement and initial reaction, key competing solutions to devolved firing issues were on display. Hot on the heels of International Army Forum 2021 and Zapad-2021, diverging solutions are becoming more pronounced. Rheinmetall displayed their Mission Master XT UGV with an MBDA Brimstone missile launcher configuration, offering line-of-sight (LOS) and non-line-of-sight (NLOS) options. Brimstone is not known to have seen surface-to-surface use as of yet. Devolved shooters and the associated magazine depth and ISR capability effects are critical aspects a number of solutions are currently competing to offer.

The emergence and increased proliferation of loitering munitions is increasingly an effort to pair these objectives into solutions fitting into existing ORBAT. Russian operations in Syria have seen the increased use of ZALA loitering munitions in this role, with the recent Zapad-2021 exercises featuring Uran-9 and Nerekhta UGVs armed with ATGMs and RPO launchers. Perhaps the most ambitious plan for the off-boarding of sensors and shooters is the ongoing evolution on the BMP-3 platform. Zapad saw the use of B-19 BMP variants with Epocha turret modules, featuring a system for automated search, recognition and ‘issuance of proposals’ for fire.

Anthony Endresen, Defence analyst at GlobalData, comments: “the pattern of seeking solutions to the off-boarding of sensors and shooters continues, with specific solutions emerging. The trend of missile rather than barrelled solutions is indicative of both the incorporation of its ISR role and thus impact on necessary sensors, as well as a reflection of the perception of changing typical firing ranges (itself a reflection of the shift to peer or near-peer conflict).

The Brimstone-armed Mission Master offers a flexible means of offboarding the shooter, given the control and integration options offered. The trend followed is essentially the same, distributing and increasing the number of smart munitions and sensors on the battlefield. In the case of the Mission Master, it is capable of operating in the manner of the Russian BMP-3 derived UGV and OGV variants, as well as ground warfare ‘loyal wingman’, given the stated interoperability with Challenger 3, Puma, Lynx and other NATO AFVs.

The great re-alignment to focus on peer and near-peer threats has clearly had significant specific consequences on design, in order to distribute the sensors and shooters, as well as to increase range capabilities. The cost implications are significant, given the increased sensor need, as well as the implications of increased magazine depth for missile solutions.  What is particularly interesting is perhaps that Rheinmetall has gone for a wheeled solution, with their literature focusing on all-terrain operability.

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The latter points would suggest differing experience forming the requirement, with Russia very heavily influenced by Syrian operations and testing.  The stated role and indeed the manner in which the Mission Master is to be demonstrated in 2022, that of operating with MBTs and protecting them, suggests the Mission Master would in fact take on a role Russia’s BMPT was designed for. The diversity of the roles the system is offered for points to a high degree of flexibility and interoperability, with the constant in these roles being the value of offboarded sensors and shooters in unmanned solutions.

The breadth of deployment options points to the nascent state of operational doctrine for these solutions, but the technology is now available and will be fielded shortly. The great questions surrounding the deployment of these systems essentially highlight the diverging ways the different doctrines will incorporate UGVs, offboarding sensors and shooters. It should certainly not go unnoticed that the shooter solutions are missile-based, which is a recurring theme. Barrelled weapons on anything above tactical solutions are paired with missile solutions if present at all, a strong indicator of the direction missile proliferation and development is going.”