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.

    • William

      Why? The weapon is completely inappropriate for use on Fast Jets! How is a jet jockey, moving at 600 knots or higher, going to keep the designatior on target?

      • FormerDirtDart

        Apparently, you’re an idiot. Laser guided weapons have been deployed effectively from “fast jets” for the last half century (that’s 50 years)

        • ajspades

          Yes, laser weapons have been used by “fast jets” (assuming F-15,-16,-18) for years, but those are generally gravity fall weapons and bombs. The article doesn’t specify the range of the rockets, though I would expect them to be on the same range as Hellfire missiles (max ~12 kilometers).

          Also, the article doesn’t say if the rockets do any trajectory shaping or what the employment parameters are. It hints at this in that the rockets are useful against targets behind walls or berms.

          So, I wouldn’t say william is an idiot, especially considering that folding fin rockets are generally not used on “fast jets” . If you have some articles that give some examples of “fast jets” using folding fin rockets for CAS, I would like to read them.

          • FormerDirtDart

            Sorry, but you’re an idiot too.
            A-4, A-6, A-7, AV-8B, A-10, F-4, F-16, F/A-18 are all capable of employing Hydra 70 rockets.

            Also, the marines have made great use of laser guided mavericks (AGM-65E) since the mid 80’s.

            William is an idiot because he fails to comprehend that the aircraft deploying the laser guided weapon does not have to be the element designating the target.

  • 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.)

    • tee

      They have currently a pod that has 19 missiles, times your 4 hard points equals 76 GTG missles.

      • Notallowed2laugh

        The A-10 does not use that pod, Army only on the AH-64s and on the MH-60s

        • William C.

          USMC AH-1Ws and AH-1Zs can carry the 70mm Hydra 19 rocket pod, and I believe the A-10 can also carry them on some pylons. Usually the A-10s are seen with the smaller 7 rocket pods however, probably with WP rockets for marking targets.

          For awhile a laser-guided version of the larger 5in (127mm) Zuni rocket was in development. That would be pretty useful for A-10s, light COIN aircraft, and UAVs.

        • Curt

          According to the USAF public info on the A-10, it can carry either 4 of the 19shot LAU-61 rocket pods or 4 of the 7shot LAU-68 rocket pods. Although most of the images on Google show A-10s carrying the 7 shot pod.

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    • Notallowed2laugh

      The A-10 will never carry 11 rocket pods, ever. The most you will see is MAYBE 4. Sta 1 and 11 are always either an ECM pod or a dual rail adapter with 2 AIM_9s. Sta 2 and 10 are always a SNIPER pod and/or a rocket pod or flare pod. Sta 3 and 9 are always AGM-65s or rocket pods. Sta 4, 5, 7,8 are always hard bombs. Sta 6 is not used except for a 600 gallon external tank, which is only used when the A-10 is deploying overseas, being transfered to anothe unit, or to DEPOT for overhaul.

      • Thomas L. Nielsen

        So because the above configuration is what we’ve “always” seen in the past, it’s the only one possible? How did you figure that one out?

        Regards & all,

        Thomas L. Nielsen
        Luxembourg

  • 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!

    • Guest

      When the Army floated this idea over 10 years ago, the units freaked out and didn’t want it. The pilots preferred unguided. Occasionally Army Aviation refloats the proposal, and the units shoot it down. Unfortunate.

    • Matt

      What did the USMC do again? Save money because they blew it all on the 35B? They got 200k active duty. Are Cobra pilots flying drones? The Army is an entirely different animal than MC. Is it revolutionary that they are using these rockets on Hueys?

    • sickunclesam

      Osprey, EFV pretty much take a dump on your theory.

  • 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.

    • William C.

      Relevance to article?

      • TrustButVerify

        You may as be annoyed at your dog for licking himself as be annoyed at Dfens for posting his standard $1.10/$1.00 screed. It’s just what he *does.*

    • TrustButVerify

      Shouldn’t you be providing a justification for your statement that the SR-71’s O&M was less expensive than the U-2’s? We’re still waiting.

  • 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?

    • Eric

      This missle system would give the A-10 the ability to hit a specific vehicle in a convoy, rather than spraying the entire convoy with hot death.

      • TrustButVerify

        If the story (posted during the “Oh noes the AF is killing the A10!!!one!” flap earlier this year) about a Hog driver hosing down a specific spot on an apartment building is to be believed, the GAU is already accurate enough for point targets. On the other hand, a single APKWS round would have less collateral damage than a burst of 30mm, and potentially be even more precise, this could be an incremental improvement rather than a new capability.
        But what the hell do I know about weapons platforms, anyway.

    • tmb2

      Not having to use up 30mm ammo. A single guided rocket may be of better use than a dozen gun rounds. It gives the pilot and troops in contact more options.

  • Jonathan

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

    • tmb2

      Look up the history of the 2.75in Hydra rocket. It’s been around since Vietnam. This is pretty much a laser guided version of it. Anything that rocket could do, this can do, only with fewer rockets and higher probability of hitting the target.

  • Andrew

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

    • tmb2

      Funny how the Hellfire started out as an anti-tank missile and thanks to OIF and OEF ended up being an anti-everything weapon.

      • Chuck

        Funny how a weapon named Hellfire is used to send Muslim extremeists to….

  • 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?

    • Mark

      I don’t think so, and I hadn’t even considered that. Can you imagine how terrifying and how much damage a Reaper with two (or more) pods of these things could do? Their effective loiter time would go up significantly, it’d be fantastic.

    • Guest

      LOL. Ever wonder why the Army is waffling on a Kiowa Warrior replacement?

  • 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.

    • Guest

      It’s cost effective, but the collateral damage potential is too high. My guess would also be that the logistics is simplified when one APKWS replaces thirty of an unguided type.

  • 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.