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‘Surgical’ attack missile joins fight in Syria

PHILIP COBURN | AFP | Getty Images

A much-lauded air-to-surface missile has joined the fight against the Islamic State in Syria this week after the U.K. government voted to extend its bombing of the terror group in the country.

The Dual Mode Brimstone missiles have been cited by defense experts as one of the main reasons U.S. authorities were so keen for the U.K. to take part in missions in Syria and were even mentioned by Prime Minister David Cameron in the parliamentary debate on bombing targets belonging to the so-called Islamic State. They have already been fired against ISIS targets by Tornado aircraft belonging to the Royal Air Force. The 50 kilogram missile is 1.8 meters in length and is renowned for "pinpoint accuracy and low collateral damage."

The British government, along with Saudi Arabia, is one of two countries to own the weapon which have a £175,000 ($265,409) price tag. First made in 2005 by MBDA missile systems the technology was updated some years later. New guidance systems are added to the product by the company's manufacturing plant near the town of Lostock, in northeast England, before being sent back to customers.


This "semi-active laser" on the missile now means it can be aimed at moving targets and navigate itself via radar or by human control. It can reportedly be fired up to seven miles from a target, at altitudes of up to 20,000 feet and has been used in conflicts in Afghanistan and Libya.

MBDA -- which is owned by Airbus, BAE Systems and Finmeccanica -- boasts that it's the "most accurate precision strike product on the market" and brand it as the missile to use when "missing is not an option." A spokesperson for MBDA told CNBC that the weapon is currently being offered to the U.S. Air Force.

A report in July by the Rand Corporation, an American nonprofit global policy think tank, noted that the value of Brimstone was amply demonstrated in the Libyan civil war.

"When a regime T-55 tank attempted to shelter from air attack in a narrow alleyway in a town in the Djebel Nafusa, but was destroyed without damaging the surrounding buildings or causing any collateral damage," it stated.

MBDA's three major aerospace shareholders looks set to receive some interest from market participants after the missile joined the Syria bombing campaign. Without commenting directly on MBDA, Andrew Gollan, a senior Europe analyst for aerospace and defense at Berenberg, told CNBC via email that increased activity will benefit these defense firms in many ways and will likely generate incremental revenues.

Brenda Kelly, the head analyst at London Capital Group, told CNBC via email that she was expecting further gains for the sector, adding that most companies in the space were still below their 52-week highs. Zafar Khan, an aerospace analyst at Societe Generale, added that Syrian involvement is "helpful to sentiment for the defense stocks" and highlighted a "buy" rating for Airbus and BAE, with target prices of 73 euros and 565 pence, respectively.

The tense 10-hour parliamentary debate in the U.K. ended with a vote on endorsing action. It also managed to divide lawmakers in both main parties.

The Brimstone missile was name-checked on certain occasions but came under criticism by the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour Party chief said that claims that superior British missiles will make the difference in Syria is hard to credit.

"The U.S. and other states are...struggling to find suitable targets. In other words, extending British bombing is unlikely to make a huge difference," he said in parliament.