Precision-guided solutions1 September 2013
The high cost of precision-guided missiles can severely restrict a force’s ability to accurately strike soft and lightly armoured targets in urban areas. Dave Harrold, BAE Systems’ precision-guidance solutions product line director, discusses the economic and weapon compatibility challenges facing today’s armed services, and the firm’s latest laser-guided rocket: the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System.
Could you please briefly describe BAE Systems' involvement in precision-guided defence systems?
Dave Harrold: We offer a broad range of products across strategic missile defence and tactical rocket engagements, as well as expertise in the technology required to develop and field effective precision-guidance solutions. Located within the electronic systems sector of BAE Systems, our precision-guided solutions product line focuses on missile seeker, rocket guidance and control technology.
The Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) is the only US Department of Defense programme of record with a fully qualified guided 2.75in rocket that uses semi-active laser guidance technology to strike soft and lightly armoured targets in built-up and confined areas.
What was the thinking behind the development of the APKWS?
APKWS-equipped rockets allow Cobra and Huey helicopter crews to provide ground commanders with a lower-yield, precision-guided weapon for soft and lightly armoured targets, at a fraction of the cost of existing precision-guided missiles.
The system is also able to defeat a broad range of targets, with more precision kills per sortie than existing higher-cost, greater-yield guided weapons. Proven in combat as the low-yield weapon of choice for the US Marine Corps, APKWS continues to perform effectively while increasing aircrew survivability.
What platforms support the APKWS?
APKWS is flexible and capable; it is available for multiple platforms and warheads. Currently qualified on the AH-1W and UH-1Y, it can also be integrated directly onto other manufacturers' helicopters including Kiowa Warrior, Apache and MH-60. Additionally, it has been successfully fitted to the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6C fixed-wing aircraft as well as the Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle.
The APKWS's robust, reliable mid-body guidance and control section is plug-and-play compatible with existing and new inventories of mk66 mod 4 2.75in (70mm) rocket motors and a variety of warheads, including the M151/152. It is possible to fire the APKWS from any helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft that can launch 2.75in rockets, and it can also be used with existing designators and fire control systems.
How does the guidance system work?
The APKWS's guidance and control section is inserted between the warhead and rocket motor using standard tools - a transformation that requires no platform modification. Only minimal training is needed, and the weapon-loading procedure is four times faster than other precision munitions and needs no extra changes.
Our unique mid-body design uses BAE's Distributed Aperture Semi-Active Laser Seeker (DASALS) technology. This protects the sensors from damage caused by adjacent rocket fire and delivers a very wide field of view, providing tremendous accuracy.
How has the APKWS performed on the market so far?
The low-cost and plug-and-play nature of APKWS makes it an attractive solution for international customers with rotary-wing aircraft similar to the US military.
We are also manufacturing well beyond our current contract requirement with the US Navy in order to be able to immediately support the needs of the US Army and international customers. The APKWS is available for sale through the foreign military sales process.
The APKWS is available at a much lower cost per unit than other precision munitions, and requires no integration with platforms that can currently fire unguided 2.75in rockets.
Can you give some specific examples of where it has been employed?
BAE Systems fired its first APKWS from a fixed-wing aircraft, a Hawker Beechcraft AT-6, in January 2012. A recently concluded joint concept technology demonstration programme with the US Navy and Air Force also included shots from A-10, F-16 and AV-8B aircraft.
Since its March 2012 deployment in Afghanistan, it has become the weapon of choice and has been fired more than 100 times.
In addition to the benefits in cost and low collateral damage, the APKWS has proved its success over land and water; the US Navy is currently in the process of qualifying the APKWS on their MH-60R/S fleets for maritime missions. Our team also continues to have positive conversations with the US Army, as well as a number of international customers.