Navy loads laser-guided rockets to Fire Scout

The U.S. Navy is adding laser-guided, precision-fire rockets to its vertical take-off and landing Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), service officials said.

The helicopter-like reconnaissance drone is currently being configured with Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS), a precision-guidance weapons technology program providing 2.75 folding-fin hydra-70 rockets with laser-guided pinpoint accuracy.

“An armed Fire Scout will be able to detect, track, identify, engage and assess reducing the sensor-to-shooter kill chain timeline while providing the ship additional security options. Arming the Fire Scout with the laser-guided rocket will enable the unmanned helicopter to engage hostile targets independent of air support from carrier groups or shore-based aircraft,” said Capt. Patrick Smith, Fire Scout program manager.

The Navy is currently completing Fire Scout-APKWS ground tests at Naval Air Station (NAS) Paxtuxent River, Md., events to be followed by test-firing events at China Lake, Calif., in May 2013, Smith added.

The testing is aimed at refining and solidifying the system integration of adding the weaponry capability to the Fire Scout, according to Smith.

“This is to test the effect of armament gas ingestion on the engine’s performance using an inert APKWS guidance section with a live 2.75” rocket motor. The objective of the test is to confirm there are no impacts to the aircraft’s engine performance during a shot,” Smith said.

In development for several years now, the 31-foot long, 2,00-pound helicopter-like MQ-8B Fire Scout UAS is engineered to take-off and land without needing an airstrip or runway, giving it the ability to more easily launch from a ship or land in a more austere forward environment.

The reconnaissance drone, equipped with Electro-Optical/Infra-red cameras and a laser-designator, can beam images back from altitudes up to 20,000-feet and travel at speeds up to 110 knots, according to Navy figures.

“This capability will provide ship Commanders a rapid-response capability to address maritime threats. It provides for greater protection of the ships by having the capability to engage at extended ranges,” Smith said.

The APKWS system, being developed by BAE Systems under a developmental Navy contract, not only improves the accuracy of the Hydra-70 rockets but also greatly extends the range of the weapon, according to statements from BAE Systems.

APKWS includes a warhead, guidance section, rocket motor and fins; the warhead is engineered with laser seekers able to locate the signal from a laser-designator and guide the round to the precise spot of the target, BAE sources indicate.

“The APKWS system is a semi-active laser guidance kit added to current 2.75 inch rockets. This design gives an 40º instantaneous Field of Regard, creating a very large acquisition basket. The APWKS rocket begins looking for a target as soon as possible, usually within 0.7-0.8 seconds after rocket separation.  Once the target is acquired, the APKWS rocket will navigate to the spot of the laser designation using proportional navigation,” said Dave Harrold, director of Precision Guidance Solutions, BAE Systems. “Our target specification is 80% within a 2 meter CEP {Circular Error Probable}, but our average miss distance from the center of the laser spot is 0.44 meters, far exceeding the specification.”

Navy developers are enthusiastic about adding APKWS to the Fire Scout platform; APKWS is currently employed on UH-1Y and AH-1Z helicopters.

“Fire Scout greatly extends and improves the fleet’s ability to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. It gives the ship and the detachment greater flexibility in meeting operational needs, and frees manned aircraft to support other high-demand missions,” Smith said.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior and a former associate editor at

9 Comments on "Navy loads laser-guided rockets to Fire Scout"

  1. I wonder could them choppers fly right now if ordered,are we gaining alot beter advance battle wise?

  2. What would the target be? Small boats?

    I do not see this replacing the longer ranged fixed wing terrorist killing drones.

  3. mount them on Predators and Reapers instead of the Hellfires, more shots at a lower cost, and when shooting at people Hellfire is overkill anyway

  4. USS ENTERPRISE | April 12, 2013 at 5:33 pm | Reply

    I would imagine that these Fire Scouts are destined to the decks of Littoral class ships. I doubt a "serious" carrier will ever carry such a machine; there is already a massive debate and argument about a fixed wing drone. Personally, I would have liked to see a camera operated chin gun. In close quarter stuff, I would trust a gun to get the job done. A rocket would have some serious collateral damage, at least more than chin mounted gun.

  5. These are perfect for those little Iranian speed boats. 1 rocket each and they are all at the bottom of davy jones locker. A very cost effective way to sink the majority of the Iranian navy, while not putting a single pilot at risk. If any speed boats do get thru, they will get zapped by a laser. Its a bad day to be in the republican guard or regular Iranian navy.

  6. Wouldn’t it be interesting to mount fifty 50mm guns on the sides of Navy ships and just let our sailors have some fun in the event of Iranian speed boats rushing the ships?

  7. LCS will become a drone carrier mothership. UAV drones to sweep mines and fire rockets at ground targets, USV's to sweep for mines and perhaps attack enemy subs.

    Good time to rename the LCS…?

  8. This is smart, It's a scout and so occasionally it comes across targets of opportunity while scouting an area. Much of the same reason we arm the legacy scout helicopter the OH-6. Say you're scouting an area and you pick up command level communications coming from a tracked vehicle. Boom.

  9. Asking questions are truly nice thing if yoou are not understanding anything
    totally, however this paragraph offers pleasant understanding even.

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