Report Card: Advanced Precision-Kill Weapon System

Since its March introduction to combat in Afghanistan, about 100 of the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps’ new, low-cost precision air-launched missiles have been launched from AH-1W Cobra and UH-1Y transport helicopters against vehicles and troops.

The Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS) is a BAE Systems-built, 2.75-in. rocket costing about one-quarter to one-third of other air-to-ground precision missiles. The helicopters that carry the new missiles operate out of Camp Bastion and a series of forward operating bases. The initial tranche of weapons used in Afghanistan have scored better than a 90% probability of success, say U.S. officials.

Gun camera video “footage shows good effects, no weapons failures and very few misses,” says John Watkins, BAE Systems director of precision guidance solutions. Some misses were made on purpose to ensure aircrews stayed within the rules of engagement for validating targets. The others were caused by not being able to hold the laser on target, a difficult problem when both the launch aircraft and vehicular target are moving.

The missile’s real value has been hitting ground troops hiding behind walls and berms in ambush sites, clusters of fighters emplacing bombs in roads and other locations or manning emplacements for mortars and heavy machine guns. Another 50 of the missiles have been fired in ongoing Fleet Marine Force training programs at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., and the Air-Ground Training Center at Twenty-Nine Palms, Calif.

Meanwhile, the Navy has tested the missile by firing it from H-60S/Rs as a flexible, fast-response defense again maritime targets, in particular small, high-speed boats that have been used as remotely controlled or suicide weapons against U.S. ships, says the Navy’s program manager, Capt. Brian Corey. A decision on whether to proceed is expected in mid fiscal 2014.

APKWS was first tested in a maritime environment in January, when 10 missiles were fired at small, high-speed boats. Two types of warheads were tested — high explosive and flechette.

The Marine Corps and Air Force also are now moving ahead with a joint test demonstration that puts a very slightly modified version of the missile—whose wings can be opened reliably and quickly at speeds over Mach 2—on the AV-8B Harrier and A-10, Corey says.

The modifications involve an explosive charge to make the conformal wings deploy with more force, Watkins says. A special, BAE-developed seal keeps the missile components from being damaged by hot gases being expelled at more than 1,000F. while staying frangible enough to let the wings deploy quickly.

A helicopter fires at speeds from a hover to 150 kt. The AV-8 and A-10 release their weapons at speeds of 400 kt. or more. The wings deploy about 1 sec. after the rocket motor fires. The missile reaches a speed of Mach 2 shortly after launch.

The Navy is working out how many missiles can be carried by the various platforms. Current packages can put 16-38 missiles on a helicopter, for example, or from 16-19 on a single station, an issue that will be decided primarily by the weight each aircraft can carry.

— This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

— By David A. Fulghum

  • BlackOwl18E

    The Navy needs to put those on the Super Hornet ASAP.

  • Noha307

    Can you imagine these on an A-10? Based on the photo above there are 7 missiles per pod and an A-10 has 11 hardpoints, of which at least 4 can handle the pods. Assuming 4 HPs each have one of these pods that’s 28 guidable missiles!

    (This is just a very quick calculation on my part, I’m sure someone will correct me.)

  • Lance

    Prof the USMC is a bit smarter now day than the army. Rather than spending billions on a new targeting system and new helicopter and new missiles the Corps use a new target system on current helicopters and rockets and get just as good performance at fraction of the cost. Samper FI!

  • Dfens

    Here’s an idea, why don’t we continue to pay our contractors $1.10 for every $1.00 they spend developing weapons, and continue to wonder why they fail. Then with what little money we have left, we can buy all our real weapons from overseas vendors! It’s the best of both worlds. That way the CEO’s of our defense contracting companies stay rich and we have some new weapons that actually work for our troops to use in our never ending wars. Brilliant, right? Jusf f’ing brilliant.

  • Steve B.

    There are a lot of aircraft you won’t see this on due to range limits. The system is based on the Hydra 70 rocket, which under optimal conditions, has a range of about 11,500 yards, or 6 miles. Thus the aircraft has to be in the weeds and moving slow for the aircraft to sight and launch within the range limit.

    So doubt a Hornet, F35 or B1.

  • Jerry

    Not sure what the AFPKWS brings to the A-10. With an effective slant range of over a mile against soft targets with its 30mm cannon, it can already precisely hit anything the pilot can see or a ground controller can laser-designate. What does this missile add to that?

  • Jonathan

    Why not use these as helicopter-based fleet defense against swarm boats?

  • Andrew

    Sure beats using a Hellfire against 2 dudes in a berm with a PKM when they end up the same amount of dead.

  • mike e

    Why no talk of putting this on fixed-wing UAVs? Predators are rarely firing on armored targets, anyway… is there something I’m missing here?

  • SOMD

    I was involved in getting this off the ground a few years while on staff in the PEO. We were using the ACTD (JCTD) process. Got some push back from the fleet, glad to see this has proved to be effective.

  • wolfvines

    Like apple pie and vanilla ice cream. The warthog and the AFPKWS should taste just right . To protect our ground forces from those cowards who hide. Hide no more. Put those to work on our birds to thwart the fast boat sea cowards. Keep up the good fight bring it to them FIRST. God Bless America. Mid 2014? Build them now!Thanks Soldiers!

  • Sarek

    Amazing.
    All of these marvelous technology and NATO still losing the war!!

  • TonyC

    USMC loves rockets, always have since they were used (unguided) in Viet Nam.
    The most cost effective way to hit an area with HE is a small rocket barrage.

  • ltfunk3

    Ah yes the USMC where bad ideas can live on free of any need for performance or operational utility.Ah yes the USMC where bad ideas can live on free of any need for performance or operational utility.

    When BAE had a stupid idea to combine the high cost of pecision guilded muniions with the short range of FFAR rockets they went straight to the marines to get it funded. And they said “everyone else thinks that engaging the enemy at short range from heliocopters is just crazys so lets do it !”

    From the F-35B to the V-22 to the ADV the marines are quite a grab bag of operationally useless capabilities. Which is why why they are changing thier doctrine to last in first out.

    • Scott

      Wow – sounds like someone needs a hug. The fact is that APKWS is the right kind of solution for today’s threats – low cost, high precision and low-collateral in MOUT environments (not to mention the tremendous increase in stored kills). APKWS accomplishes this by adding a single component to the existing Hydra70 legacy system.