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Navy's new 'Precision Kill' system adds laser-guided accuracy to ordinary rockets

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The Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) (BAE Systems)

At low cost, the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon transforms a run of the mill rocket into one that is precision laser guided for surgical strikes.

This week the U.S. Navy has authorized full-rate production of BAE Systems’ Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS®) laser guided rocket system for the U.S. Marine Corps.

APKWS soups up a standard unguided 70 millimeter rocket into a precision laser-guided one to give warfighters precision capability.

It is also designed to give aviators a highly accurate weapon that minimizes risk to non-combatants and allies.

By upgrading rockets using this technology, US forces will have increased capability to engage targets in for example, built up and confined areas, where previously they may have been unable to do so because of the risk of collateral damage and civilian causalities.

The order for full production comes off the back of the Marine Corps using the system a number of times in combat earlier this year with great success.  

In March, the AH-1W and UH-1Y helicopters used this weapon system for the first time in support of Marine Corps on the ground during combat operations Afghanistan.

According to BAE, performance testing began in 2002 by the Marine Corp and since then APKWS has succeeded 68 times in hitting high speed moving targets and multiple stationary targets within 17 inches from the laser spot.

The APKWS technology fills the gaps between unguided rockets and Hellfire missiles.

Rockets in US inventory can be easily converted without affecting the effectiveness of their fuses, motors and warheads.

The system does not require any modification to the aircraft or launcher and instead only to the rocket itself.

Using standard tools, the guidance and control section can be inserted between the rocket motor and warhead.

Adapting it is simple – the unguided rocket is placed in a fixture and all it takes is a wrench to remove the fuse and warhead from the rocket motor. A guidance unit is then screwed into the rocket motor and the warhead and fuse screwed into the guidance section.

Before inserting the newly souped up rocket into the launcher, the pulse repetition frequency code matching the designating laser is dialed into it, the on/off switched place on and the rocket is ready to launch- just that quickly and easily an unguided rocket is turned into a precision laser-guided one.

The modification can be made at the factory, a depot or even in the field and according to the company requires minimal training to do so.

APKWS locks on after launch and by doing so improves the protection of guidance optics from damage that the fire, smoke and debris of adjacent rocket fire can cause.

Within one second from launch, the battery kicks off the guidance section electronics, the wings are deployed and the trailing edges stabilize the rocket.

Next the sensor aperture dome and seeker optics lock onto the laser painted target and guidance begins.

Low-cost laser guidance seeker aperture domes are mounted on leading edges of each wing and these seekers are protected from operational environmental conditions such as sand, dust and debris by innovative design and special seals.

The guidance system utilizes the same laser designator as the Hellfire.

The system then determines the angle, pitch, roll and yaw controlled for precision flight to target.

Testing has demonstrated that APKWS sensors have acquired target data more than 14 kilometers away – a distance well beyond the range of its motor.

For the pilot, the laser targeting procedures and armament control are the same as current systems.

Any helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft capable of firing Hydra 70 rockets can currently use the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System and BAE Systems is looking to expand APKWS use to the MQ-8B Fire Scout and the armed MH-60S.

APKWS rockets can also be guided remotely by another aircraft, a targeting team on ground or autonomously using the aircraft’s onboard system.

The system is not designed to replace high yield anti armor weapons like Hellfire missiles or for area suppression, marking and illumination that unguided rockets for which unguided rockets may be deployed.

Instead it is intended for precision engagement against moving and stationary targets and has long-range laser acquisition and a wide field of view to enable that sort of deployment.

It is effective against lightly armored and soft targets and the semi-active laser guidance allows it to engage and penetrate complex targets in challenging terrain like Afghanistan.

One advantage of this sort of plug and play technology, is that is allows the military to leverage the current inventories by simply upgrading as opposed to costly new acquisitions.

Compared to the current forward firing laser guided precision munitions inventory, APKWS is approximately one-third of both the cost and the weight according to the company.

In September, BAE Systems will deliver the 925th Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System to the Navy and it remains available to the forces allied with the United States through foreign military sales.