70mm Hydra rockets have been a mainstay of the US military since the 1940s. They’re less expensive and cause less collateral damage than, say, a Hellfire-sized ordnance. Problem is — they don’t steer well, or rather, at all. A new laser-guidance upgrade from BAE Systems, however, is poised to make the Hydra-70 much agile and much more deadly.
A 70mm rocket’s size and warhead — weighing anywhere from 3 to 7 kilos — are generally good enough for unarmoured military targets and lightly reinforced buildings. Problem is — they only blow up what they’re pointed at. The Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, however, is the first to deliver this level of aiming precision. The APKWS is designed to make the $US10,000 Hydra do more than a conventional 70mm rocket can without costing taxpayers $US70,000 a pop, as Hellfires do.
The APKWS isn’t like other add-on guidance systems. Rather than being embedded in the nose of the rocket, the APKWS installs between the warhead and rocket motor. This installation doesn’t require specialised training or tools, meaning that crews can easily add this capability in the field. The system employs the Distributed Aperture Semi-Active Laser Seeker (DASALS), BAE’s proprietary guidance method which mounts fiber-optic sensors on the rocket’s pop-out fins. This is done so that multiple guided rockets can be fired at the same time.
See, if you try to rapid-fire multiple guided missiles, there’s a good chance the rockets in the back of the pack will be damaged by the soot, the flames, the heat, or the chop of the lead rockets. By placing the guidance system further back, more rockets can be fired more quickly and with less interference. What’s more, the APKWS can also aim itself autonomously or be guided into its target with a laser designator.
“This weapon, now deployed in Afghanistan, continues to prove it is a precise, rapid-fire missile system, available at one-third of the cost and one-third of the weight of the existing inventory of laser-guided weapons,” said John Watkins, director of Precision Guidance Solutions for BAE Systems.
“These tests demonstrated APKWS’ ability to hit targets at close range and penetrate complex targets in urban terrain, which is vital when supporting troops on the ground.” The APKWS has been deployed in Afghanistan since March of this year and has already been fired from AH-1W and UH-1Y helicopters in support of ground troops. Military brass are now considering adapting the system to work on other weapon platforms such as the MQ-8B Fire Scout and the MH-60B.
The guided rocket was shot for the first time in combat in March 2012, from supporting US Marine Corps ground forces during combat operations in Afghanistan, demonstrating its capability to engage and penetrate complex targets. The weapon was shot for the first time in combat operations in Afghanistan from AH-1W and UH-1Y helicopters supporting US Marine Corps ground forces in March. The system’s semi-active laser guidance section integrates with existing 70mm rocket motors and warheads to provide precision engagement of soft and lightly armoured targets and very low collateral damage. Precision rockets can carry infantry-killing flechettes, dispersed bomblets, small unitary warheads, and more.
Adding thermobaric warheads creates a system that can kill personnel, destroy most armoured personnel carriers and lighter vehicles; and even collapse buildings, if the Marines’ SMAW experiences in Fallujah are any indication. Using 70mm rockets also benefits the platforms carrying them to the battlefield. Laser-guided rockets would expand the range of aircraft, helicopters, and UAVs carrying precision weapons, as well as increasing the number of precision weapons each platform carries.