Air Force F-16s & A-10s need more laser-guided rockets to attack small targets

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The Pentagon is substantially revving up its arsenal of air-launched, laser-guided rockets able to attack and hit moving targets from the air at ranges more than three kilometers (1.86 miles), service officials said.

Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System attaches a guidance section to unguided Hydra 70 2.75-inch rockets, giving helicopters and fixed-wing assets an increased ability to pinpoint targets on the move with laser precision.

“APKWS provides the warfighter a precision-guided, moving-target capability for the F-16 and A-10 aircraft with effects between machine gun ammunition and a Hellfire missile,” Maj. Emily Grabowski, Air Force spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven.

Air Force officials explain that there continues to be a widespread, fast-increasing demand for APKWS given the current global op-tempo and ongoing air attacks against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

BAE Systems just received a modified APKWS production deal to add more than 10,000 new units to the existing arsenal. While Naval Air Systems Command is the contracting authority, the largest amounts of the new rockets are slated for the Air Force.

A-10 Warthog attack planes, Air Force F-16s and other aircraft, have been consistently attacking enemies in Iraq and Syria. Unlike 100-pound, tank-killing Hellfire Missiles, APKWS rockets are well suited to attack smaller targets, such as groups of ISIS fighters.

Consisting of a rocket motor, seeker, warhead and fuze, APKWS rockets can track and attack targets such as small groups of enemy fighters, thin-skinned vehicles and other targets for which a Hellfire might be too large or unnecessary.

Upon launching strikes, wing-mounted seeker optics receive the reflected laser energy from the target, BAE weapons developers said.

BAE developers also report that the weapon has a 90-percent probability of hitting a target within two meters per single shot.

“The weapon has been very effective against stationary and mobile targets,” Grabowski said.

ISIS and other terrorist groups are known to deliberately blend in with civilian populations to complicate targeting for attacking forces. Such a phenomenon underscores the merits of smaller, precision weaponry which can isolate enemy targets while avoiding damage to nearby civilians or surrounding infrastructure.

“A guidance kit we have developed goes in between the warhead and the rocket motor,

making it into a precise, accurate and low collateral damage weapon,” Dave Harrold, Director of Business Development for Survivability, Targeting and Sensing at BAE Systems

BAE has designed its APKWS rockets with a particular “mid-body” design engineered for additional targeting and guidance.

“Other SAL (semi-active laser) systems have a nose-mounted SAL seeker that is limited to one aperture in the front. We have four distributed apertures on those wings, giving us a better instantaneous field of regard,” Harrold added.

BAE is now pursuing a technical roadmap to improve the range and targeting guidance of APKWS. These include technical exploration of rocket motor upgrades and additional seeker technology.

“Range limitations are based on the rocket motor,” Harrold explained.

Multiple modes of “seeking” technology would vastly expand the versatility of the weapon by enabling it to operate more effectively in adverse weather.

“SAL can have challenges where there are obscurants. If you cannot get a strong laser signal, that is going to be difficult,” he said.

More than 17,000 APKWS units were ordered for 2018; over the years, the weapon has been fired from AH-64 Apaches, V-22 Ospreys, Navy Fire Scout Drones, Marine Corps UH-1Ys, A-10s, MH-60s Navy helicopters and Air Force F-16s, among others.

BAE has also qualified APKWS weapons on an F-18 Super Hornet and A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft.

APKWS rockets have also been successfully tested against maritime targets such as small surface boats, a report from Naval-Technology.com said. The rockets were fired from a Marine Corps UH-1Y.

“The APKWS rocket used its inert Mk152 high explosive warheads and Mk149 flechette warheads to directly hit and destroy the targets at ranges of 2km-4km and validated its maritime capability,” the report writes.

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