APKWS Enters Full Rate production

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The conversion of the Hydra 70 unguided rocket into a laser-guided rocket is done through the addition of a mid-body guidance unit (WGU-59/B) developed by BAE Systems. Photo: BAE Systems
BAE plans to deliver the 925th APKWS assembly next month. Photo: BAE Systems

The U.S. Navy has authorized full-rate production of the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS), BAE Systems’ affordable and versatile laser-guided rocket system.
Under the contract, the company will make deliveries to support the U.S. Marine Corps, which is already effectively utilizing APKWS in theater.
The guided rocket was shot for the first time in combat in March 2012, from AH-1W and UH-1Y helicopters supporting Marine Corps ground forces during combat operations in Afghanistan, demonstrating its capability to engage and penetrate complex targets.

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[/nonmember]“Full-rate production of this capability is important because it means more APKWS units will be available to U.S. military forces and select countries,” said Navy Capt. Brian Corey, APKWS program manager. “This highly effective weapon allows aviators to complete their missions while minimizing the risk of harm to allies and non-combatants.” BAE Systems is the government’s prime contractor for APKWS. The company will deliver its 925th initial production system to the Navy in September. APKWS is also available to the U.S. allied forces through foreign military sales.

[ismember]The system, which is the only 2.75-inch (70 mm) laser-guided rocket program of record for the U.S. government, allows armed forces to accurately engage targets in areas where the threat of non-combat causalities and collateral damage prevented warfighters from doing so in the past. The conversion of the Hydra 70 unguided rocket into a laser-guided rocket is done through the addition of a mid-body guidance unit (WGU-59/B) developed by BAE Systems. The enhanced rocket costs about ten percent of the cost of laser-guided Hellfire, or around a third of an equally weighed aerial guided weapon. Moreover, the support of the guided rocket requires about a quarter of the time it takes to prepare maintain and support the Hellfire. Nevertheless, the Hydra 70 warhead is far less effective against heavily armored targets the Hellfire was originally designed to defeat.

The conversion of the Hydra 70 unguided rocket into a laser-guided rocket is done through the addition of a mid-body guidance unit (WGU-59/B) developed by BAE Systems. Photo: BAE Systems

The rockets can be fired from any helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft that can fire Hydra 70 rockets and BAE Systems is supporting U.S. government plans to expand its use to other platforms including the MQ-8B Fire Scout and the armed MH-60S.

The introduction of this lightweight and affordable guided weapon opens a new market segment that was not available before. While APKWS has the lead as the single program of record for the US military, other designs are also maturing by various companies, under private initiatives, as ordnance manufacturers rush to seize the new opportunity. Under parallel paths, ATK and Elbit Systems have developed the GATR rocket, utilizing Elbit Systems proven laser seeker technology. Raytheon with Emirates Advanced Investments (EAI) from the UAE have developed a similar weapon dubbed talon Laser Guided Rocket (LGR) while Lockheed Martin offers the DAGR. These three designs are different from the APKWS as instead of adding a ‘plug-in’ module, GATR, LGR and DAGR are using a new seeker and guidance section replacing the original rocket fuse.

These new guided rockets offer three essential operational benefits:

1. Re-utilization of existing inventories of unguided 2.75-inch rockets rocket motors, warheads, and fuses (over 100,000 are in service).
2. Reducing the risk of collateral damage by increasing precision and reducing warhead size.
3. Introducing an affordable precision weapon system utilized against lower value targets.[/ismember]