Air Force testing laser-guided rockets on A-10s, F-16s

The U.S. Air Force is working to mount the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) to the A-10 Thunderbolt II and F-16 fighter jet, a service official said.

Air Force engineers are experimenting with additional applications the laser-guided precision 2.75-inch folding fin Hydra-70 rocket able to pinpoint targets not suitable for larger Hellfire missiles or small arms fire from the air, said Laura McGowan, an Air Force spokeswoman.

Although APKWS has historically been configured to fire from rotary wing platforms such as the Marine Corps AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter, the Air Force is currently test-firing the laser-guided rockets from fixed-wing aircraft such as the A-10 F-16, McGowan said.

“Testing is currently ongoing and will continue through 2013,” she added.

In fact, the Air Force successfully test-fired APKWS rockets from an A-10 for the first time this past Feb. 13, striking within inches of the intended target, according to an Air Force statement.

While the APKWS, designed for maximum precision, has a Circular Error Probable (CEP) of about 2-meters, the round has exceeded this benchmark in testing and come within inches of targets at ranges up to 5 kilometers, according to BAE Systems officials.

The fixed-wing -mounted laser rockets are identified as a second variant of APKWS, Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System II, service officials said.

APKWS II does involve some technical modifications above and beyond the original configuration such that the weapon can fire from a faster, higher-altitude fixed-wing platform, said Dave Harrold, product line director, precision guidance solutions, BAE Systems.

“This presents very different environmental challenges. It is one thing to shoot one of these from a rotary wing aircraft that is in a hover and not very far off the ground – and another to fire out of a jet aircraft that is at 10 or 15,000 feet and going 350 knots,” said  Harrold. “There were slight modifications to the control actuation system.  We have learned things from the rocket and its guidance system, and taken that technology to other applications.”

In development since approximately 2005, APKWS adds precision-guidance technology to existing conventional Hydra-70 rockets; the developers of the system added a guidance section in-between the warhead and the rocket-motor, slightly lengthening the rocket.

“The Hydra 70 unguided rocket has a warhead that is screwed into a rocket motor. In essence, we’re taking an unguided rocket and through a plug and play methodology, turning it into a precision rocket,” said Harrold.

Also, instead of having a nose-mounted seeker which is typical for these kinds of munitions, APKWS uses what’s called a Distributed Aperture Semi-Active Laser Seeker, four separate seekers on small wings mounted onto the round and designed for steering the warhead.

The semi-active seekers, configured to provide a 40-degree field of view in order to quickly obtain precise target locations, are engineered to locate the “spot” or target location identified by a laser designator, he explained. The laser designation can come from either the ground or the air, Harrold said.

“With these semi-active seekers, the optics are looking for the energy that is bouncing back off the target that the laser designation has put on. They are receiving the laser energy that is coming back from the target; both the information from those optics along with the information from the on-board IMU [Inertial Measurement Unit] figure out where the target is and then navigate toward that target,” he added.

Overall, the APKWS is engineered to give aircraft crews additional offensive attack options, allowing them to reduce collateral damage with precision accuracy and pinpoint targets not large enough to justify firing a much larger, heavier munitions such as a 100-pound HELLFIRE missile.

“APKWS was always designed to fill the niche between simple unguided rockets like the Hydra 70 and larger weapons like the Hellfire – to give the pilots the ability to have multiple munitions to choose from depending upon the type of target they need to engage. Not everything that gets a Hellfire shot at it, should get a Hellfire shot at it,” Harrold added.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • USS ENTERPRISE

    So this is kinda like adding a JDAM kit to a “dumb Bomb”. Hmm. Sounds actually pretty promising. JDAMS have functioned well, I don’t see why this won’t.

    • Pete Mitchell

      JDAMS are GPS guided; they’re saying these are laser guided.

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        I wasn’t saying that JDAMs are laser guided or anything like that. I was saying that both the JDAM and this new device are essential add-ons to already functional weapons systems to make them “smarter”.

        • blight_

          At some point they’ll merge Paveway and JDAM…

  • Lance

    Soon we may not need the Avenger cannon on the plane is rockets can be this accurate who knows sounds cool though.

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      Doubt it. Rockets aren’t bad, but in the end, just look at ‘Nam. We need to keep the gun. I personally trust the gun more than a rocket if you are attacking the enemy in extreme CAS situations.

      • Belesari

        Agree’d gun is outstanding. These are nice but hardly game changing other countries have had guided rockets for a long time.

        • USS ENTERPRISE

          Well, the US has had guided rockets as well. Like I said, this is kinda like the JDAM kit.

    • PolicyWonk

      That cannon has proven itself to be one of the most effective weapons ever devised. And bullets are *real cheap* compared to missiles.

      • platypusfriend

        Big A-10 fan, myself. Throwing DU everywhere, though, isn’t the cheapest thing to do, for a number of reasons. Long live the GAU-8! :)

        • JetJock

          Not all rounds are DU, either. In fact, firing DU at insurgent bodies isn’t the best use of the gun. HEI, on the other hand… :)

        • FormerDirtDart

          DU rounds replaced rounds with titanium penetration rods because DU was cheaper.

          • Thomas L. Nielsen

            “….titanium penetration rods….” – that should be “tungsten penetration rods” methinks, or, to be completely correct, tungsten carbide. Titanium is insufficiently dense to be used as a penetrator.

            Incidentally, DU is often alloyed with titanium when used in penetrators.

            DU is still cheaper than tungsten carbide, and in addition, DU is pyrophoric, giving you a nice incendiary effect into the bargain.

            Regards & all,

            Thomas L. Nielsen
            Luxembourg

          • FormerDirtDart

            You are correct, I was thinking Tungsten, but for some reason typed Titanium.

        • Nick T.

          I’ve always been hoping that they would do a 4.5 or 5th-gen replacement for the A-10, something a bit more sturdy than the ’35. No stealth, but improved jamming, same gun (caliber at least), VTOL, and the same or better durability the A-10 is known for. I know it’s a pipe dream, but still. Replacing the A10 with the F35A leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

          • Big-Dean

            that’s air farce thinking for ya,

            replace a dedicated ground attack bird designed for toughness/survivability by a stealth $100+ fragile fighter-yep I understand it now, I see the light!

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Indeed. A-10 should live long, like the B-52.

          • Lance

            For wars in ground combat only we need A-10s alot more than the JSF for Ground troop support.

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Yeah, the pylons on the F-35 are less than impressive. Carry anything on the wings, and one of its key features, stealth, is compromised. A-10 is the best way to go.

          • William_C1

            They meant to do it with the F-16 on several occasions, one time they tried fitting a 30mm gun pod to an “A-16”, it did not work out too well.

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Well, it will be the same story with the F-35.

  • Jacob

    If it’s got a guidance system, should it still be called a “rocket”?

    • pedestrian

      There are more nasty confusions going on. JSOW-ER has a turbo fan, and its still called a bomb :-)

      By the way, somehow the military lovers “Extended Range” accronym these days, that there are several weapons ending with ER

      JDAM-ER
      SLAM-ER
      JSOW-ER
      JASSM-ER

      Maybe more to see.

      • blight_

        Hilarious.

        JSOW was a glide bomb, the ER adds a turbofan, so it’s a…fan-powered glide bomb?

        If you are a turbofan, chances are you are a cruise missile?

        Missile is too generic a term, except for unguided, gravity powered projectiles (RV’s are now Missiles). Rockets are now dumb rockets or guided rockets. AMRAAM is now AMRAAR. AAM’s are now AAGR’s. AGM’s are now AGGR’s if guided or AGR’s if unguided.

        I can see why rockets are still marked and don’t have prefixes…(eg, Hydra 70mm is a Mk 66).

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      Agree! “Guided rocket” = “Missile”.

      The only reason for the designation “guided rocket” that I can think of is to indicate that, rather than a designed-from-scratch missile, this is a rocket retro-fitted with a guidance system.

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen
      Luxembourg

  • FormerDirtDart

    “Air Force engineers are experimenting with additional applications the laser-guided precision 2.75-inch folding fin Hydra-70 rocket able to pinpoint targets not suitable for larger Hellfire missiles or small arms fire from the air, said Laura McGowan, an Air Force spokeswoman.”

    I’m sorry, but since when has 20mm and 30mm aviation cannon fire been considered “small arms fire”??

    • pedestrian

      >when has 20mm and 30mm aviation cannon fire been considered “small arms fire”??

      When nailing terrorists with 30mm cannons have become no longer an overkill :-)

    • blight_

      When you pump a Hellfire missile into a small car, or the Israelis use a brick of C4 in a car headrest to kill terrorists, the proportion of accepted killing power applied to a target increases.

  • BajaWarriors

    Bring back the rockets!

    • pedestrian

      I don’t understand the difference between guided rocket and missiles :-)

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        Range is the biggest difference.

        • Honsu

          price is also a big difference

        • Thomas L. Nielsen

          In the interest of technical/geek nitpicking: A rocket doesn’t become a missile beyond a certain range. The difference is the guidance system: Missiles have it. Rockets don’t.

          Regards & all,

          Thomas L. Nielsen
          Luxembourg

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Well we now have guided rockets. And I would imagine an AIM-120 has a longer range than a “guided rocket”.

  • Aardvark

    On the Warthog, laser guided rockets? will be a plus, but keep the GUN.

    • Noha307

      It’s funny when you think about it – even if they wanted to remove the gun from the A-10 they couldn’t. The gun is so heavy that with out it the A-10 would be way out of balance. Have you ever seen pictures of a Warthog on the ground with it’s gun removed? They have to put a stand under the tail or otherwise it would fall over backwards. I guess if they REALLY wanted to do away with the gun they could just fill the left over space with a giant hunk of some heavy material like lead (Which would be ironic (DU –> lead)) but that would just be stupid.

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        Never thought about that. Hm. Maybe a weapon’s officer seat? Or advanced computers? I dunno. But DON’T get rid of the gun, Air Force.

    • Mike Mathew

      The A 10 was built around “the gun”. Remember the retreat from Kuwait, no need for high tec munitions in a target rich environment. The Worthog with its Volcan/Gatling inspires folks to not fire on US ground troops.

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        The Vulcan <--- look at spelling people! Anyways, the Vulcan was a key in the Gulf War(s) as it was relatively cheap, accurate, and dangerous.

        • Thomas L. Nielsen

          In addition to spelling, please note (and yes, this is another technical/geek nitpick) that “Vulcan” refers specifically to the 20x102mm M61 and its derivatives.

          The 30x173mm GAU-8 fitted to the A-10 is the “Avenger”.

          Regards & all,

          Thomas L. Nielsen
          Luxembourg

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            True. Though I didn’t say that the Vulcan was on the A-10.

          • Thomas L. Nielsen

            Indeed true, you did not. Mr. Mathew did. Although his reference was to a “Worthog”, so maybe a different aircraft altogether?

            Regards & all,

            Thomas L. Nielsen
            Luxembourg

  • William_C1

    A laser guided version of the larger 5 inch Zuni rocket should be considered.

    • blight_
      • FormerDirtDart

        I was just going to suggest he try googling “laser zuni”

    • SANDMAN

      GUIDED 5″ ZUNI ROCKET ? AINT THAT GOING BACK TO THE HELLFIRE?

      • blight_

        Not necessarily.
        Zunis are heavier, larger and bigger, and apparently carry a bigger warhead (40 pds vs 20 pd). The MBDA brochure suggests 10+ mile range, the unclassified range of a Hellfire is less.

        I guess if it requires more punch you use a Zuni. Both are laser-guided, except for the one radar-guided version.

        If you need to take out a car, bring a Hydra. If it’s a hut, use a Hellfire. If it’s a house, take a Zuni.

  • justjack

    I always wondered why the Marines didn’t experiment with the A-10 in the close air support role. Put a couple of hinges on the wings and a tail hook and you could get off a short carrier deck and tear up a beach head or go tank and armor hunting back from the beach.
    Great replacement for the A-6

    • ronaldo

      Because the marines believe that they are special and no one elses kit is good enough.

      Obviously they should have jumped all over the A-10, but went with the AV8B instead……which is really a piece of crap.

      • Belesari

        Yea I know because no one has ever used the M-1A1, M-16, UH-1, F-18, HUMMV, M-60,M-249, and the other shit they use.

        So rethink that comment. Then type it again.

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      Well, I don’t think its that simple, I am afraid. While I agree that the Marines really could have benefitted with this plane (especially considering their role), simply adding a few hinges and whatnot will not make the plane carrier-borne. Like, I don’t think those high engines are well suited for carrier operations.

      • Belesari

        Exactly. The Marines would LOVE to operate these babies.

        The truth is they would need a of redesign. The wings would need to be able to fold, Much stronger landing gear, the area the Tail hook goes would need to be strengthend, this all increases the mass of the plane. Which means less mass for weapons or fuel.

        So yea there is a lot to it. Then there is the Air force red tape..they think anything which flys should be theres. Hell the only reason they built the A-10 was because the Army was coming up with a CAS aircraft.

        • USS ENTERPRISE

          Possibly, on the Air Force jealousy point. And of course, the rest I agree with. An A-10 would be interesting to see on a carrier, as the only way it could get on would be via a crane, sadly.

          • blight_

            I wonder if it could JATO. I don’t know if they can be captured on landing.

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            No. JATO on a carrier has logistical problems from the start. A) A JATO rocket on a cramped flight deck would injure quite a few unlucky deck crew. B) Even with the blast deflectors, a JATO launch would have the exhaust fly out, and possibly hit another aircraft, which could trigger several bad things to happen. C) Considering that weapons are armed on the flight deck, in the event of a weapons cook off, we could have a result of a mass fire, one that could trigger the entire ship to burn out from the fuel of JATO rockets and whatnot. D) The wear and tear the rockets would have on the flight deck’s surface would be expensive. E) I don’t know if the A-10 is even rated to fly using the JATO. F) If the JATO is carried on the A-10, or can be used for that matter, then it will take up valuable “hard points” on the plane. Not a good idea. G) There are no more JATO packs in the known existence. Actually, G is probably the biggest obstacle here. Now, supposing somehow A-10’s could be launched, landing could be solved by using the barricade system, but it would be quite impractical to use it regularly; it is designed mainly for emergencies. Maybe magnets? SARCASM. While an A-10 would be great, especially keeping the Marines in mind, I don’t think that this would work, especially with JATO.

        • riceball

          Aside from those there’s also making the A-10 resistant to corrosion from salt water which would mean re-thinking what materials its made out of.

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Well, I don’t know how big that problem is. Is the F-18 made out of different materials as, say, the F-15 or F-16? I just thought there was a protective paint coat on the plane.

          • blight_

            Fun research paper about F/A-18’s. http://www.ndt.net/article/CompNDT2011/papers/16_

            “The F/A-18, manufactured by McDonnell Douglas, uses a composite honeycomb sandwich panel for many of its flight control surfaces. The two rudders on the F/A-18 are located just behind each of two vertical stabilizers. Water ingress is a potential failure mechanism, as
            moisture introduced within the rudder’s structure can degrade epoxy adhesives that bond the carbon epoxy skins to the aluminum honeycomb core, resulting in disbond of the honeycomb core”

            So it would seem the Hornet uses carbon epoxy and aluminum for some parts. Looking at the rest.

            A fun tidbit about steel: http://www.serdp.org/News-and-Events/News-Announc

            “The model used in the Materials by Design™ approach rapidly evaluated and tailored the characteristics of a large suite of new metal alloys to create the novel stainless steel, Ferrium S53, with mechanical characteristics equivalent to those of the industry standard ultra-high-strength alloys 4340 and 300M and corrosion performance equivalent to stainless steel. ”

            Note that high strength steel lacks in corrosion resistance without toxic cadmium electroplating, and exposure/ablation of the electroplating and subsequent exposure to the environment has long term structural consequences.

            And for those interested, a Boeing document on corrosion.
            http://www.boeing.com/commercial/aeromagazine/aer

          • blight_

            The solution may be sacrificial anodes, which is what’s used on boats.
            http://afcpo.com/images/1100_AM_-_F-35_Corrosion_

  • pedestrian

    Cheap solutions, more quantities, and less collateral damage.

    • Mike Mathew

      There is a place for shock and awe, not provided by precision ordanance. I witinessed a vulcan cannon in action in action in the 60s. Any who servived it’ will tell their comrads, never fire on that ugly American piece of junk, no one will servive.

      • pedestrian

        Tell you what, the next thing this warthog could do with APKWS II is shooting tons of them in rapid fire mode around the terrorists, and the terrorists will have a nice shock and awe shower with boom boom caboom fireballs filling the space enough to ground a town. Dump in a thermobaric warhead into this APKWS II, fire it like a machine gun cannon from the warthog rocket pod, and nothing will be standing miles of diameters :-)

  • STemplar

    So how many do you think an AC130 could carry? That could be fun.

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      A fun thought, but I doubt they will be fitted; I mean, just a few articles ago, there was a discussion of adding missiles to the Spooky. I am not saying its impossible, just highly unlikely; besides, we have Apaches and A-10’s to carry this stuff. My question, for anyone who is going to downrate this comment, or really anyone, is why this system isn’t going to be fitted on the F-15. I mean, the F-15E is a strike aircraft, it is a CAS aircraft, so will this be fitted on the Eagle?

      • STemplar

        An F-15E really is more of a light regional bomber, not really CAS aircraft. It can do it but it’s cost per flight hour is probably higher than a F-16 or A-10.

        • USS ENTERPRISE

          I disagree. It doesn’t have the gun the A-10 has, but it is designed to fly in low and drop bombs. CAS, if you ask me. Yeah, the F-15 is more costly, but it has two burning engines, compared to the one F-16 engine. And the A-10 has business jet engines strapped on to it (pretty much). Claiming the F-15E isn’t a CAS plane is starting to border ridiculous.

          • pedestrian

            Watch out, 40 second Boyd is shouting behind you :-)

          • STemplar

            It’s a strike fighter, it can do CAS, but that’s not the best use of it. An A-10 is a tank buster, pure CAS.

            In addition I would call the inane infantile comments back and forth between you and Restore Palestine that are cluttering the grown up conversation as ridiculous personally.

          • haloguy628

            No it’s not ridiculous. F-15E is a derivative of the F-15C which was developed solely for air superiority role. Speed, climb ability, altitude and pure air to air purpose. It was response to the Russian Mig-25.

            In early 1980’s because the production line was about to be closed, McDonnell Douglas started the development of F-15E without actual request from the Government to do so. Second seat, glass cockpit and hard points for deep strike tactical bombing missions utilizing precision weapons were added and it was intended as deep penetration tactical bomber potentially replacing the F-111. CAS was never the intended purpose.

            F-15E does not have loiter capability, and is too fast with too big turning radius in order to be really effective CAS AC.

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Okay, the F-15E doesn’t even look like an F-15C (CFTs attached, of course). It does have CAS capabilities, and I should have clarified that. But effective? Of course. Loiter capability? What were the CFT’s for?

    • Mike Mathew

      Puff had a Volcan+ an 05+ .50s, m60s. Pot bellied old war horse probably has new teeth that I don’t want to know about.

      • riceball

        What’s a Volcan?

    • riceball

      You could probably fit some on those baby AC-130s that the Corps has or is working on. I believe that they’re working on missile packs for them which, I think, are meant to fire out of the cargo bay so it might be possible to use these guided rockets in the same way or maybe mod these KC-130s to mount them on the wings.

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        No. Not out of the cargo bay. Heck no. its already cramped back there, with all the howitzers a-blazing. They will be fitted on wing pylons, like, say, on the B-52. Besides, what purpose would firing backwards have? You want to destroy a target as soon as it is identified, not after your plane has flown past it.

  • BlackOwl18E

    The Navy should follow suit and add those to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. They would be very easily compatible.

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      Agreed. The Super Hornet is the strike aircraft for the navy (F-35 ain’t near deployment yet) and should be equipped with these.

  • scott

    these things could probably be used to give troops in Afghanistan close air support in the Himalayas,and still cause some destruction

  • blight_

    Waiting for them to build the next A-10 around a giant laser. Pewpewpew, but only in low humidity, low dust, low cloud cover conditions.

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      Thinking of me? The A-10 could house a laser (the gun is the size of a freakin’ Volkswagen Beetle). Interesting, to say the least. Or, you could put a rail gun in the front.

      • Thomas L. Nielsen

        For both lasers (and other DEW) and railguns, the size and mass problems aren’t really going to be with the weapon itself, but rather with the power supply (the “ammunition”).

        Depending on the exact type of laser, for example, you would either need fuel (for a chemical laser) or a dedicated generator and probably a capacitor bank (for diode, eximer or free-electron lasers). And for a railgun, we’re also looking at a sizable power supply.

        But yes, definitely an interesting idea, and one I believe we will see sooner rather than later.

        Regards & all,

        Thomas L. Nielsen
        Luxembourg

        • STemplar

          Capacitors. I think people get stuck on unlimited ammo for lasers. Really a capacitor bank that gave you 20 useful air to air shots would be a huge leap.

  • ajphillips

    All this gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, our boys and girls are doing their best to protect this great country, make sure we fully support these guys. When I lay down at night I feel we are being taken care of. A long way since my time in 1958.

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      Sadly, we have incidents, such as the Boston Marathon Bombing, that shatter the peace, close to home.

  • M-1911A1

    2.75 APKWS II…………I want to see the 22 cal. version. We need to save money… Remember, 7 shot mag…. We have got to be fair in war………

  • greg

    I should think charged particle cannon should be a better bet…..

  • Curtis

    1st, mount a rocket pod on a vehicle launcher for strykers and Bradleys. It’d be a great way to take out a window sniper from a distance without hosing down the entire house with lead. Very accurate way to deal with confirmed bad vehicles in traffic. A man portable launcher could also be fun, I paint the target, you shoot from a different location.