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Transforming close air support.

The laser-guided rocket projectile is the most cost-effective means to destroy a broad range of soft and lightly armoured point targets and it substantially reduces collateral effects. In addition, its light weight allows the platform to carry more fuel or weapons and opens the attack role to a multiplicity of small drones, potentially putting close air support directly in the hands of front-line troops. Guided rockets and other lightweight air-to-ground missiles could well prove game-changers for the warfighter.

Unguided rockets are now seen as area attack weapons, and far less useful than laser-guided bombs (LGB), which were developed during the Korean War to deal with hard targets.

Low-cost laser guidance and control kits have allowed thousands of stockpiled 'dumb' bombs to be converted cheaply into precision-guided munitions (PGM) that are highly effective against targets such as bridges, tanks, concrete structures and naval vessels.

However, in present-day operations, LGBs are proving unnecessarily powerful for most targets. Today's needs are illustrated by a 2009 Dutch operational requirement for a weapon to arm that nation's Boeing AH-64s in Afghanistan. It specified targets as 'mainly cars, mud houses, caves, and individuals in wooded or open terrain'.

Aside from their unnecessary cost and undesired collateral effects, LGBs restrict carriage to relatively large aircraft that are available in only small numbers.

Today, LGB collateral effects are being restricted by using the smallest bombs available, and in some instances by replacing most of the explosive fill with inert ballast, although the work involved adds to unit cost.


The optimum approach is clearly to deliver with the best accuracy affordable the minimum size of warhead required to defeat the objective. For a wide range of current targets, such improvements can be achieved by adding a laser guidance and control kit to an existing rocket projectile in the 68 to 80 mm range.

Aside from combining low collateral effects with high kill probability, this laser-guided rocket (LGR) approach reduces munition mass. This has the result that (a) a weight-critical vtol platform (helicopter or Harrier) can carry more fuel and thus stay airborne longer, and (b) a useful number of weapons can be carried by a lightweight platform, such as a tactical drone.

The arming of relatively small drones opens the door to close air support being provided by a much greater number of air vehicles. In addition, it will bring the control of air support down to a lower organisational level, and reduce the time delay in responding to front-line needs.

Four GBU-12 LGBs (each weighing a nominal 227 kg, but in reality up to 360 kg) require a platform such as the 1450-kg General Atomics MQ-I C Gray Eagle. In contrast, four laser-guided 70-mm rockets, each weighing around 15 kg (without launcher), could be carried by a drone of around one-tenth the size of the MQ-1C such as the 170-kg AAI RQ-7B Shadow 200.

Long and Winding Road

In the case of America, with seemingly endless conflicts, there is clear impetus for adding laser guidance and control kits to some of its existing Hydra 70 rocket projectiles, of which General Dynamics Armaments & Technical Products (GDATP) has already produced over three million. However, the clear justification for such development has been in stark contrast to the stop-go efforts of the US Army in bringing this comparatively simple concept to fruition.

The need for a lightweight precision weapon was recognised in the US Army operational analysis that followed Desert Storm of 1991. This study established that large numbers of $ 80,000 Hellfires had been used to destroy targets that could have been defeated by smaller, cheaper missiles.

This conclusion was reinforced by the US Army's analyses of Mout (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) experience in Grenada (1983), Panama (1989), Somalia (1993) and Haiti (1994). All of these activities demonstrated the need for a lightweight LCPK (Low-Cost Precision Kill) weapon that would allow a single helicopter to deal with multiple targets, such as dismounts (personnel), air defences, lightly armoured vehicles and small watercraft, all while maintaining a suitable standoff distance.

These studies led to a Mission Need Statement (MNS) for the APKWS (Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System) being approved by the Department of the Army in February 1996. It thus began purely as a US Army need, specifically for helicopters.

An Operational Requirements Document (ORD) was approved by the US Army's Tradoc (Training & Doctrine Command) only in March 2000. This came after the completion of successful ground launch trials in an LCPK-ADT (advanced technology demonstration) programme, performed by the service's Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal. Alabama.

This work provided the technological basis for APKWS, emerging as a missile with a unit cost of less than $ 10,000, a CEP of around one metre, and a standoff range of at least six km. It was to combine the GDATP Hydra 70 rocket motor, warhead and fuze with a small, strap-down solidstate laser seeker, an off-the-shelf inertial measuring unit and a low-cost control system. The APKWS was expected to reduce the cost per kill significantly, and increase the number of kills that one helicopter could achieve by a factor of up to 20.

The US Army planned that the APKWS would be compatible with (in addition to the Boeing AH-64A/D) the Bell AH-1F/W/J and OH-58D, the Boeing AH-6 series and the Sikorsky MH-60L and SH-60R. It was initially hoped to field the APKWS in FY02, but US Army budget cuts of 2001 set the programme back.

At that stage, the APKWS was planned specifically as a guided version of the M151 version of Hydra 70, a 10.4-kg projectile with a 3.95-kg anti-personnel fragmentation warhead. However, in late 2002 its scope was expanded to include other variants, including the M229 with 7.3-kg anti-personnel warhead, the M257 and M278 parachute-flares, the M267, M278 and WTU-l/B practice models, the M264 red phosphorus target marker, the M255A1 flechette warhead and the M161 with nine M73 bomblets. All use the MK66 rocket motor.

Based on successful APKWS-ADT firings in 2002, in 2003 GDATP was selected as prime contractor for the SDD (System Development and Demonstration) phase. BAE Systems was appointed subcontractor for the guidance and control section, which employed a Dasals (Distributed Aperture Semi-Active Laser Seeker) arrangement with four sensors mounted in the leading edges of the canard surfaces.

Although a more complex concept than the laser seeker of the LGB, this left the front end of the rocket free for the standard nose fuze and warhead. In September 2003 GDATP announced the first ground-launched APKWS flight test under the SDD contract.


However, in April 2005 the US Army terminated the programme due to unsatisfactory trials results. Six months later the army issued an APKWS II RFP, aiming to field a new weapon by 2008, and opening the programme to other contractors, notably Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

In April 2006 BAE Systems was selected as prime contractor for the SDD phase of APKWS II, with GDATP now as subcontractor. It was to be basically the same product as before, but under new industrial management. However, in February 2007 the project was zero-funded by the US Army in the FY08 budget request.

Some testing nonetheless continued. In September 2007 the US Marine Corps fired an APKWS II from an AH-1W Supercobra at China Lake, California, and three months later the US Army fired one from an OH-58D.

The project was kept alive by the US Marine Corps, issuing in August 2007 a formal statement of need for a new helicopter weapon. In the light of this. Congress provided funding to the US Navy to continue the programme. The Navy (which has an inventory of around 100,000 Hydra 70s) formally assumed acquisition oversight in November 2008.

In April 2010 the APKWS II reached Milestone C, clearing the missile for lowrate initial production. Full-rate production is expected to be launched in the second half of 2012.

The US Marine Corps is to begin operational test and evaluation of APKWS II in early 2012, leading shortly afterwards to service on the AH-1W in Afghanistan. Clearances for the AH-1Z, UH-1Y, the Navy's MH-60R and possibly the Northrop Grumman MQ-8 drone are to follow.

The programme broadened out in February 2011, when Navair (Naval Air Systems Command) awarded to BAE Systems a 27-month, $ 19.7 million JCTD contract to develop a fixed-wing capability for APKWS II, aimed at clearing use on the US Marine Corps AV-8Bs and US Air Force Fairchild Republic A-10s. The contract includes the production of 80 rounds for testing and evaluation.The US Air Force is also considering application to the Lockheed Martin F-16.

Not So Barmy Army?

To return to the US Army guided-rocket story, in FY08 the service issued an RFI for an AMPM (Aviation Multi-Platform Munition), a low-risk guided Hydra 70 that could be tested without delay on an instrumented OH-58D, for application to its manned AH-64 and OH-58D, and unspecified drones.

The principal weapons chosen for army testing were the ATK/Elbit Systems Gatr-L (Guided Advanced Technology Rocket--Laser), the Lockheed Martin Dagr (Direct Attack Guided Rocket) and the Raytheon/Emirates Advanced Investments Talon. BAE Systems declined the Army's invitation to provide the APKWS II for evaluation, due to US Navy/Marine Corps commitments.

In addition, the army tested the Raytheon Griffin and Textron Defense Systems Sharpshooter missiles. Little has been published regarding Sharpshooter, but Griffin offers off-boresight engagements, three fuzing options and GPS reversion. The AMPM programme was concluded in December 2009, with (as yet) no apparent outcome.


In 2008 Raytheon announced its signing an agreement with the Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Advanced Investments (EAI) to develop an affordable semi-active laserguided 70-mm rocket to destroy targets such as tactical armoured vehicles and high-speed naval craft. Subject to governmental approval, Raytheon Missile Systems and EAI will produce thisTalon LGR for the United Arab Emirates, and offer it to the US and other countries.

Preceded by firings of a Raytheon LGR in 2006 under the APKWS II programme, testing of Talon began in February 2009. In December 2009, Raytheon began ground-based Talon tests under the US Army AMPM programme, with firings at ranges up to five km.

It is anticipated that the UAE will place a launch order for Talon to arm the AH-64D, and that these first guidance and control sections will be manufactured by Raytheon in Tucson, Arizona. The ability to manufacture this section will then be transferred to EAI, with the exception of the laser seeker, which will remain a Raytheon product.


Lockheed Martin has used seeker and guidance technology from Hellfire and later air-to-ground missile projects to develop its Dagr modification kit for the Hydra 70 and Canada's Magellan Aerospace CRV7.

Dagr firings can be made up to ten degrees off boresight. It has a launch weight of 15,9 kg with a 4.5-kg warhead, and 19 kg with a 7.7-kg warhead. Dagr has a range of seven km at sea level, and up to twelve km from 20,000 ft. It can engage targets moving at up to 90 km/h. Lockheed Martin has designed two- and four-tube launchers for Dagr.

Following trials under APKWS there have been at least 20 Dagr firings, including airborne launches from the AH-64D, OH-58D and AH-6. Dagr is in limited production under US Air Force contract, reportedly to arm Iraqi Air Force Mil 171s and ATK AC-208Bs and Iraqi Army Air Corps Mil Mi-17s.


As mentioned earlier, US Army trials on the OH-58D included the ATK/Elbit Systems Gatr-L. This has also been tested in Israel on the Sikorsky/Elbit Armed Black Hawk, and is seen as a likely candidate for Israel's AH-64s and AH-1s.

Alliant Techsystems (ATK) has developed an improved rocket motor of the Gatr-L, which also has a revised tail design. Elbit Systems produces the guidance and control module.

Gatr-L is proposed as a new-build weapon, using only a few components from the legacy Hydra 70. It provides improved kinematic performance, with a range of over eight km.

Rest of the World

Elbit Systems has independently developed the Star (Smart Tactical Airborne Rocket) LGR modification kit, based on the laser seeker from its Lizard LGB. Star is promoted mainly as a retrofit for the French 68-mm Sneb and the Russian 80-mm S-8 rocket series.

Turkey's Roketsan is developing the Cirit (Javelin) as a completely new laser spot-homing 70-mm projectile, responding to a Turkish Army requirement for a weapon for its Atak (TAI/AgustaWest-landT-129).

Cirit is also proposed for the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) Sivrisinek (Mosquito) drone helicopter. It weighs 14 kg and delivers a tri-mode (anti-armour, anti-personnel and incendiary) warhead over a range of eight kilometres. Development of Cirit is almost complete, and series production is expected to begin shortly.

Magellan Aerospace is collaborating with Norway's Kongsberg Defence Systems on the development of the CRV7-PG which has semi-active laser homing. The CRV7-PG weighs 15.7 kg and has a maximum range of eight kilometres from an air launch.

Thales' subsidiary TDA carried out successful firing trials with a laser-guided 68-mm Sneb rocket in 2008 under the Syrocol programme, aimed at a French Army and Air Force requirement. Its Belgian FZ (Forges de Zeebrugge) subsidiary is developing a laser-guided 70-mm rocket.

Heavy LGRs

Some work is also being done on laser-guided rockets of larger calibres. In 2009 MBDA announced the first successful demonstration of a laser-guided Zuni five-inch (127 mm) rocket.The test round combined the standard Mk 71 motor and Mk 24 warhead with a guidance and control section developed jointly with Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake, California. MBDA is teamed on this project with Elbit Systems, General Dynamics and Honeywell.

The 63.5-kg 'Laser Zuni' was fired from a four-round LAU-10 launcher. Maximum range is estimated as 15 km. This development is aimed at fulfilling a US Marine Corps need for a high-lethality affordable precision weapon with a useful standoff range, for use on Boeing AV-8Bs and F/A-18C/Ds operating over Afghanistan.

Heavy guided rockets of the Nudel-man/Tochmash family have been developed in Russia, but it is difficult to establish their true status. As far back as Berlin's ILA 2002, the Yakovlev Yak-130 and Mil Mi-35M brochures referred to the laser-guided, 122-mm S-13L, based on a rocket that weighs 68 to 75 kg in unguided form. However, the Rosoboron catalogue still makes no mention of the S-13L.

At Maks 1999 Ametex unveiled the Ugroza (Threat) family of laser-homing rockets, using a common seeker for the 57-mm S-5Kor and larger calibres. The 15.2-kg 80-mm S-8Kor has a range of eight km, and the 70-kg 122-mm S-13Kor a range of nine km.

In 2006 the Tula-based Splav exhibited at Moscow's Idelf (International Defence Exhibition for Land Forces) an S-8Korl with a laser seeker, but it was emphasised that this was a course-corrected (rather than fully guided) weapon.

The Ukraine's Luch has developed from the S-8 (which it produced as the AR-8) the 'course-correctable' AR-8L, which has a launch weight of 14.7 kg and a laser seeker.

The 240-mm S-24 BMZ is an inertially guided version of a projectile that weighs 232 kg in unguided form.

The 409-kg S-25L is a well-established laser-guided development of the 340 mm S-25, and is probably the world's heaviest aircraft-launched guided rocket. It is an armament option for the Sukhoi Su-25T and Su-27/30 series, and the Kamov Ka-50/52. The S-25LD increases range from seven to ten km.

Swarming Problems

Laser spot-homing is a cost-effective way to strike fixed or moving targets, but this requires illumination throughout the flight, and this limits the rate of engagement. When multiple manoeuvring targets have to be destroyed in rapid succession, as in the case of a helicopter defending a naval vessel against a swarm of fast attack craft, a different approach may be necessary.

In 1999 the US Office of Naval Research (ONR) began work on a Lowcost Guided Imaging Rocket (Logir) that would combine a Hydra 70 projectile with a cheap IIR sensor, known as the Low-Cost Imaging Terminal Seeker. In 2007 South Korea joined the programme. represented by the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and Hanwa.

For Logir, the targeting system on the helicopter transfers data on target position and velocity vector to the missile, which acquires the target only after launch. This procedure allows different targets to be engaged at rapid intervals, out to a range of seven kilometres and over a 120[degrees] cone.

In a demonstration off Point Mugu, California in May 2010 an AH-1W from the US Navy's VX-31 Air Test and Evalu-ation Squadron successfully fired a Logir against a manoeuvring unmanned boat. This cleared the way for the Medusa JCTD (Joint Concept Technology Development) programme, in which the navy plans to use an MH-60R platform and aims for service introduction in 2014. Logir can be produced for around $ 15,000, and the navy expects to buy up to 30,000 units. The US contractor has yet to be selected.


Guided rockets are well suited to manned aircraft and drones with long-range sensors, but small, low flying drones are incapable of acquiring targets at long range. There is consequently a need for lightweight weapons that can deal with small close-in targets such as an individual sniper. A gliding missile may well provide sufficient range.

This market is attracting widespread interest; hence it is possible to mention only some leading examples. It is relevant to note that the US Army policy for the future is not to arm drones smaller than the MO-1C. This is replacing the Northrop Grumman MQ-5A/B, which is cleared to use the same company's 20kg GBU-44 Viper Strike laser-guided glide weapon. The GBU-44 is reportedly already in use with the ten-round Gun-slinger installation on the tail ramp of the Afsoc MC-130W Combat Spear.

The US Navy (on behalf of the US Marine Corps) is one of the leaders in developing miniature missiles.The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Divison at China Lake, California first produced the 2.25-kg Spike, and is now developing the Scaneagle Guided Missile (SEGM) and GPS-Guided Munition (G2M).

Raytheon developed the 15-kg laser-homing Griffin missile. The Griffin-A was designed to be ejected aft from the loading ramp of a transport such as the MC-130W, and Griffin-B is fired forwards from a tube. Griffin-A is in limited service in Afghanistan on the US Marine Corps KC-130J Harvest Hawk, and Griffin-B may be in use on Afsoc MQ-1 Predators.

Raytheon is expected shortly to be contracted to integrate Griffin on the US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper and possibly the US Army RQ-7B. Griffin technology is also used in Raytheon's 5.9-kg Small Tactical Munition (STM) glide weapon.

In the 13-kg weight category are the IAI Lahat (LAser-Homing ATtack) missile, the Lockheed Marlin Scorpion, the MBDA Saber (Small Air Bomb Extended Range) and the Thales UK LMM (Lightweight Multi-role Missile). Thales has recently announced receipt of a contract to produce 1000 laser beam-riding LMMs. initially for use as the FASGW(L) on AgustaWestland Wildcat Lynx helicopters.

Interest in extremely lightweight loitering missiles has been sparked by a US Army RFI for Lmams (Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System), which specifies a maximum weight of 2.5 kg and a range greater than three km. This has led to proposals from IATech, Aerovironment (Switchblade) and Textron Defense Systems (Tram = Tactical Remote Aerial Munition).

In a slightly heavier category, ATK is working with Systima Technologies on small munition carriage systems, in which the missile is designed from the outset for integration with the platform, ATK exhibited at AUSA 2010 a 2.7-kg mini weapon of which four can be carried on a Shadow 200.


Interview with George Adamakos--APKWS Business Development Manager, BAE Systems, Nashua

RB: I believe that the Navy Lrip 1 was expected to be for 325 rounds, and Lrip 2 for 600. Can you comment on these reported numbers?

GA: Those numbers are correct. The Lrip 1 contract was signed in July 2010 for 325 units. The Lrip 2 contract was signed in January 2011 for 600 units. We have ordered material for an additional 1000 units in preparation for future procurement orders.

RB: How do you respond to criticism that placing sensors on the canards rules out lock-on before launch?

GA: The current configuration of the sensors on the wings (since they are located mid-body on the rocket, they are called wings rather than canards) makes APKWS a lock-on-after-launch weapon. It also protects the sensor apertures from adjacent rocket fire and environmental damage. Our testing has shown that these environments, especially those at the front of the launcher, are the most severe the guidance unit must survive. Since our optics are stowed prior to launch, they are protected from this environment. This has worked to our advantage as during our testing, our seekers have demonstrated a 100% probability of acquisition within one second after launch. They have never failed to pick up the energy on the target.

RB: As I recall, BAE Systems declined the army's invitation to participate in the 2009 AMPM comparative tests. Are you not apprehensive that the army may choose a different LGR, Congress will insist on a joint US Army/Navy programme, and the army will have more political clout? In any event, have you had post-AMPM relations with the army?

GA: We were unable to participate in the 2009 AMPM testing because of our involvement with the completion of the SDD program with the US Navy/US Marine Corps. That proved to be the right course since we were able to achieve Milestone C approval in March 2010. To date, we have 37 successful test firings of APKWS from both ground and air platforms. PMA-242, the Navair programme office that manages APKWS, has a steady dialogue with PM Jams, who will be the procurement agent for the army's guided rockets, about the status of the APKWS programme.

After completion of the IOTE scheduled for this summer, we expect to be fielding APKWS to the US Marine Corps for use in theatre sometime in mid-to-late-2011.

We have been told that the army will wait to receive feedback from the marines on the use of APKWS in theatre before it makes any decision regarding guided rockets. In the meantime, we continue to speak with different factions throughout the army in an effort to inform them about the product.

RB: Is APKWS now cleared for international sales, and can BAE Systems say anything about such prospects?

GA: The US Navy is in the process of completing its Technical Transfer Security Assistance Review Board. This board is the determining body for which international customers will be eligible to receive APKWS. We have received over 20 inquiries from international customers for APKWS, have briefed several of them in person on the product. We have already received one FMS case and are expecting to receive more in 2011. Because of the simplicity of converting an unguided 70-mm rocket into a guided munition using the APKWS guidance section, the request for information on the product from international customers has been enormous. The plug and play, point and shoot approach that APKWS provides has been resonating with customers who already have an inventory of unguided rockets.
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Title Annotation:Guided rockets
Author:Braybrook, Roy
Publication:Armada International
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Aug 1, 2011
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