Enhanced APKWS Rockets Enter Production, to arm Marine Corps Gunships


APKWS, the lightweight 2.75″ laser guided rocket developed by BAE Systems in partnership with the U.S. government, has been approved for production. The U.S. Marine Corps will initially deploy APKWS from AH-1W Cobra helicopters. APKWS also has been successfully demonstrated from a U.S. Army OH-58 Kiowa Warrior. APKWS is the Program of Record established by the U.S. Government to meet war fighter requirements for a laser-guided 2.75″ rocket. The Navy assumed acquisition executive oversight of the program in 2008 and has fully funded it for production.

Prior to being declared production-ready, the weapon underwent a rigorous series of flight, component, and all-up-round qualification tests. The flight tests, which culminated in a perfect 8-for-8 score in a series designed and conducted by Marine test pilots, demonstrated that the system’s accuracy exceeds government requirements. Throughout its eight-year history of flight tests, APKWS has hit an average distance from the center of the laser spot of less than 0.75 meters against a government specification of 2 meters.

In a series of shots fired during the weeks of Jan. 11 and 18, Marine AH-1W Cobra helicopters flying a variety of scenarios fired laser-guided APKWS rockets at targets typical of those encountered in theater. Live warheads were fitted to the APKWS guidance section, and in day and night tests, the guided rockets struck their laser-designated targets and detonated on impact.

“The APKWS operational assessment has demonstrated the system’s effectiveness in a variety of scenarios involving various targets, platform speeds, ranges, and tactics,” said Maj. Matt Sale, requirements officer for Marine Corps Aviation Weapons. “The system’s reliability has been proven with its 19-for-19 performance in tests, exceeding requirements and expectations. We are confident that APKWS is the right-size weapon for many of our typical engagements and will be highly effective in allowing Marine aviators to prosecute targets.”

The weapon system, which transforms standard 2.75-inch unguided rockets to smart, highly precise laser-guided missiles, “is a game-changer for our nation’s war fighters,” said Mike Lewis, vice president and general manager of soldier and vehicle solutions at BAE Systems. “Its demonstrated precision and small warhead mean aviators can prosecute very specific targets from a greater distance without incurring collateral damage. The technology’s low weight compared to other precision-guided munitions is critical to mission success on helicopters operating in high-altitude environments.”
APKWS is a low-cost alternative to other air-launched munitions currently in inventory. Because it uses standard launchers, APKWS requires no platform integration or aircraft modifications, and because it is loaded and fired like a standard 2.75-inch rocket, it requires little additional aviator or ordnance crew training. The mid-body design of its guidance section enables use of existing warheads, fuses, and rocket motors, enhancing the capability of the existing 100,000-unit inventory of unguided rockets.