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.

    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.


        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.

  • Jacob

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

  • 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”??

  • BajaWarriors

    Bring back the rockets!

  • Aardvark

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

  • William_C1

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

  • 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

  • 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.

  • STemplar

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


      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.

    • 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

      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.


        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.


      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.

  • 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.


      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.