The US Army completed firing tests of the Northrop Grumman Viper Strike precision munitions, fired from an IAI/Northrop Grumman Hunter UAV. Viper Strike is a derivative of the BAT “brilliant Attack munitions”, which uses a semi-active laser guidance. The new weapon is designed for operation over built-up and urban area, where visibility and collateral damage risks restrict the use of flat trajectory attacks from the air (such as with the Hellfire missile). In the tests, the new weapon scored 7 direct hits out of nine launches. Various types of tactical targets were engaged included pickup trucks, tanks using countermeasures and multiple rocket launchers.
During the initial round of tests, four inert munitions carrying flight data recorders were dispensed to verify system performance. For the actual demonstration, nine tactical munitions fitted with laser sensors developed by Elbit Systems and IAI/MBT Division, and live warheads, were deployed against a recognized set of simulated enemy targets. Seven of the nine scored direct hits, rendering their targets tactically inoperable. The remaining two munitions missed their targets by a few feet but still inflicted measurable damage. The causes of these two misses are being analyzed in detail along with the rest of the data.
These tests were part of a program designed to demonstrate the operational capability of the Hunter/Viper Strike integrated system. According to Emmitt Gibson, V.P. for precision munitions at Northrop Grumman’s Electronic Systems sector, the demonstration validated the Viper Strike concept and provides the US Army with an armed UAV with a lethal precision strike capability.
This method of operation was already proven successful in Afghanistan, when general Atomics Predator UAVs, operated by the CIA and the US Air Force, have fired Hellfire missiles from high altitude. It is believed to participate in a similar deployment in Operation Iraqi Freedom, as part of the SSM and SAM suppression missions and in precision strikes against high priority targets.