Gravity Dropped
Munitions for UAVs

(Part of "Smart Weapons for UAVs" article / Defense Update 1/2007)

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Fielding larger Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), such as the MQ-9 Reaper, capable of carrying much heavier payloads will open new horizons for the use of standard aerial weapons, such as GPS, or laser guided gravity dropped bombs. The main benefit of such weapons is their relative low cost, ability to deploy from high altitude and absence of telltale acoustic or visual launch signature. Deploying a 250 pound Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) with the F-15E in 2006, marked an important milestone for the SDB, considered as an essential weapon for future unmanned platforms. The MQ-9 Reaper will be able to carry stacks of these relatively lightweight, high precision weapons. Current SDBs are fitted with GPS guidance kits, but enhanced models are expected to carry GPS/ SAL or tri-modal guidance offering UAS true all weather strike capability. Other improvements will introduce "Focused Lethality Warheads" utilizing the Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) technology, developed by the US Air Force and Lawrence Livermore national laboratory.

Skeet submunition, designed for enhanced fragmentation effect with multiple EFP warhead.An autonomous weapon perfected for top attack of armored targets is the Sensor Fused Weapon (SFW). When employed with weaponized UAVs, they can be loaded individually, or in small numbers to accommodate weight restrictions of the platform. One of the best known examples is the 3.4 kg Skeet, developed by Textron Systems. This weapon is usually loaded into submunitions, carried by cluster bombs such as the BLU-108 which is operational with the USAF and has demonstrated dramatic effect in 2003 during combat operations in Iraq. Textron Systems further adapted the Skeet into the Selectively-Targeted Skeet (STS), modified for unmanned airborne platforms, cruise missiles and loitering weapons. STS provides the same lethality as BLU-108 Skeet but is packed in a lightweight, more flexible deployment mechanism. Instead of the parachute used with the BLU-108 STS uses a foiled wing, which provides the autorotation necessary for area scanning. A similar application is under development by the French company Sagem, seeking to develop a UAV-borne dispenser deploying the 6.5 kg BONUS SFWs.

Another weapon designed to engage targets in open area is the Claw (Clean Lightweight Area Weapon), also developed by Textron Systems, using the same external dimensions and weight as the BLU-108. It has a single insensitive munition warhead with rings of thermobaric material (zirconium) that produce blast, fragmentation and incendiary effects over a wide area. Using reliable self-destruct and timed de-activation mechanisms, CLAW leaves no unexploded ordnance on the battlefield. CLAW submunitions are being tested with RQ-5 Hunter unmanned air vehicle under a US Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate program. For the Hunter demonstration, CLAW would be deployed using Textron’s multi-mission payload universal aerial delivery dispenser (U-ADD), a 16kg cargo tube able to carry 45-50kg (100-110lb) payloads and has an empty weight of.

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