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Say hello to the laser guided Hydra rocket

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  • Say hello to the laser guided Hydra rocket

    Did anyone notice that APKWS entered initial production?

    APKWS II: Laser-Guided Hydra Rockets to Finish SDD Phase

    1st low rate production contract. (July 30/10)

    The versatile Hydra 70mm rocket family is primed for a new lease on life, thanks to widespread efforts underway to convert these ubiquitous rockets into cheap laser-guided precision weapons.

    The benefits would be considerable, which explains why strong competition has emerged from all points of the compass. America’s “Advanced Precision-Kill Weapon System (APKWS)” is one of those efforts, and after numerous delays and false starts since its inception in 1996, an “APKWS-II” program finally entered System Design and Development (SDD) in 2006. In 2010, it finally entered low-rate production…

    APKWS Advantages, and an Eventful Ride
    APKWS-II concept
    APKWS concept
    (click to view full)

    Laser-guided rockets would expand the range of aircraft, helicopters, and UAVs carrying precision weapons, and also expand the number of precision weapons each platform carries.

    Each of those changes, individually, is a significant increase in combat power. Both of those changes together will make US Army precision fires nearly ubiquitous on the battlefield, alongside weapons fired from UAVs, and guided ground-launched rockets, mortars, and artillery shells. When coupled with persistent surveillance concepts like Task Force ODIN, it nudges the Army and USAF toward a more equal footing of “federated airpower” in counterinsurgency fights. In full-scale battles like the 1991 Desert Storm, it can turn NATO’s long-standing goal of assault breaker tactical decapitation into standard procedure.

    A 70mm rocket’s size and warhead are good enough for most targets, offering both reduced collateral damage and warhead flexibility. Precision rockets can carry anything from dispersed bomblets, to small unitary warheads, to thermobaric warheads that can kill personnel, destroy most armored personnel carriers and lighter vehicles, and even collapse buildings if the Marines’ SMAW experiences in Fallujah are any indication. All without incurring the high-end price of full anti-armor missiles like the TOW RF, Hellfire, etc.

    Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and BAE Systems were all battling for the APKWS program, which could pick up large US and international orders and remain in production for a long time. BAE Systems’ team won, but Lockheed Martin and Raytheon both proceeded with independent internally or internationally-funded efforts to develop their own products. Meanwhile, the Army’s APKWS budget request was “zeroed” out in FY 2008.

    Fortunately for BAE and General Dynamics, the US Navy stepped in to keep APKWS-II System Design & Development going.

    Contracts and Key Developments
    APKWS Diagram Labeled
    (click to view full)

    July 30/10: BAE Systems Information and Electronics in Nashua, NH receives a $15.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for the first Low Rate Initial Production Lot (LRIP-I) of 325 APKWS II guidance sections for the US Navy, including shipping and storage containers. The contract will also fund integration with the Marines’ new UH-1Y utility helicopter, technical and training manual updates, and support equipment and support test equipment.

    Work will be performed in Nashua, NH, and is expected to be complete in October 2012. This contract was not competitively procured by US NAVAIR, pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 (N00019-10-C-0019). BAE Systems.

    April 9/10: The US Navy has approved low-rate production of the APKWS after the weapons system passed its Milestone C. The USMC plans to initially deploy APKWS on its AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters. The Navy decision follows successful testing of the weapons system from the AH-1W helicopter in January (see Jan 11-18/10 entry). BAE Systems release

    Jan 11-18/10 The USMC completes APKWS’ operational assessment, scoring 8 direct hits from AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters in live-warhead trials over 2 weeks. The final step in the APKWS development program is system qualification against the environments in which it might be employed, transported, and stored. That testing is expected to be finalized in time to allow the Navy to complete a production decision within the next 60 days, leading to low-rate initial production if the decision is positive. BAE Systems release.

    Jan 4/10: US FedBizOpps announces, in solicitation #N00019-10-C-0028:

    “Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) intends to award a sole source contract to BAE Systems, Nashua, NH for the FY10-12 development of the Fixed Wing (FW) Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) II for AV-8B and A-10 platforms to support a Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD). It is anticipated that the resultant contract shall be Cost-Plus Incentive Fee type for the development of FW APKWS II weapons that show operational utility upon integration with AV-8B and A-10 platforms. Fifty (50) FW APKWS II plus FW APKWS II tests units (quantities TBD) including Navy Shipping and Storage Containers (NSSC) are to be delivered for technical demonstrations and operational assessments.”

    The AV-8B is a USMC aircraft, while A-10s are operated by US Air National Guard and some USAF units.

    Jan 4/10: In the combined synopsis/solicitation #N00421-10-T-0042, US FedBizOpps announces an RFQ on a firm fixed-price, sole-source basis with Summit Instruments, Inc., for APKWS-related electronics. Summit makes accelerometers and inertial measurement systems, which can be used to help precision weapons establish their position, just as a simpler set of accelerometer + software in an iPod Nano can tell you how far you’ve jogged today.

    CLIN 0001 – Quantity 5 each, Repackage 65210E to fit in 2.75” diameter rocket body and add 2GB memory…. Award is expected 04 Jan 2010.

    Nov 23-27/09: During the final phase of SDD testing, 4 APKWS rockets fired from a U.S. Marine Corps AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter hit laser-designated moving and stationary targets under a variety of operational scenarios while the rockets were fired at varying altitudes and airspeeds. Each shot strikes well within the required distance from the laser spot.

    Navy and BAE Systems representatives confirm that APKWS has undertaken 28 guided flights over the last 7 years. The weapons are known to have hit their targets 22 times since September 2002, and most of those firings (12) have been from USMC AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters. In the latest test series, there have been no APKWS issues.

    The rockets are approaching Milestone C decision that approves a system’s performance, durability, safety, and successful integration with specified systems, and allows Low Rate Initial Production to begin. The US Navy will begin Operational Assessment of APKWS in January 2010, with 8 live fire events. In the next 12 to 14 months, the Navy expects to shoot approximately 90 weapons in combined developmental and operational testing, on the road to the program goal of Initial Operational Capability in 2011. BAE Systems.

    Nov 13/09: BAE Systems announces that APKWS has entered its final phase of testing, intended to confirm both production readiness and reliable accuracy. According to BAE, APKWS has hit its targets 18 times since September 2002 in ground and air-launched shots, including a recent firing from a USMC AH-1 attack helicopter against a stationary target. That test firing initiated a sequence of more than 20 firings that will comprise the program’s final test phase, to be completed by the end of 2009.

    BAE Systems and the Navy are preparing for Navy demonstration test flights and full government qualification testing, with a goal of production in 2010.
    ORD APKWS from Cobra 2007-09-19
    APKWS from Cobra
    (click to view larger)

    Nov 4/08: BAE Systems announces that the APKWS contract has been transferred from the U.S. Army to the Department of the Navy.

    Development funding will also be used for testing and qualification of APKWS for use on the Marine Corps’ AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter, and BAE Systems’ Nashua facility plans to begin producing the rockets at the end of 2009.

    July 15/08: BAE Systems announces that the Department of the Navy will assume the $45.7 million APKWS development contract with BAE Systems to complete demonstrations of the system. The Navy is expected to assume that contract by end of August 2008, and the contractor team plans to begin APKWS production in 2009.

    April 9/08: Congress approves the APKWS-II Reprogramming Request. In combination with the President’s Budget Request for FY09 (submitted to Congress the first week of February), the Reprogramming approval makes APKWS-II’s development phase a fully-funded program.

    This development represents a major breakthrough for the BAE/GD offering, which now looks as if it will survive long enough to reach the competitive market. Whether their APKWS-II can continue its success, and win volume orders against a growing set of rival systems from Lockheed Martin, ATK, Raytheon, et. al., remains to be seen.
    ORD APKWS Target Impact 2007-09-19
    APKWS on target
    (click to view full)

    Sept 19/07: BAE Systems shoots 2 guided APKWS rockets from a U.S. Marine Corps Cobra helicopter at NAS China Lake, marking the weapon’s first flights from an aircraft. Following the launches, both APKWS rockets were guided by a laser designator to a ground target. The first rocket was guided to the target by a ground-based laser designator. The pilot guided the second rocket to the target using laser designation equipment onboard the helicopter. Both rockets struck the target board well within accuracy requirements established by the Army and Marine Corps.

    The flights, held in partnership with the U.S. Navy program office, were designed to confirm the APKWS rocket’s compatibility with the Cobra’s carriage and launch systems, and to demonstrate that APKWS can be launched from the platform without requiring aircraft integration or modifications. The tests also proved again the weapon’s ability to acquire, track, and hit a laser-designated target. BAE Systems North America release.

    BAE informs DID that the US Navy and USMC continue to pursue funding of APKWS-II within the FY 2008 appropriations process, with the goal of completing SDD and entering Milestone C in the second quarter of CY 2009. Meanwhile, development continues using FY 2007 funds.

    April 11/07: BAE Systems’ APKWS II successfully completes environmental tests. They verified protection from sand, dust, vibration, ice, and other environmental hazards likely to be found in combat situations. Locating the weapon’s Distributed Aperture Semi-Active Laser Seeker (DASALS) within the rocket’s mid-body, with wings and optics sealed within the guidance section, certainly helps. In addition, a fully assembled 35-pound rocket dropped directly on its nose from a height of 3 feet sustained no damage to the guidance section. BAE Systems release.

    March 19/07: BAE Systems informs DID that APKWS II funding has been zeroed out in the FY 2008 budget request, and they are putting the program on hold. Congressional reinstatement is always possible – but if it fails BAE may face an uphill battle getting its product to market, given the advance of competitors like Lockheed Martin’s DAGR and the US-Korean LOGIR.
    ORD DAGR Rocket Launch Test
    DAGR launch test
    (click to view full)

    March 7/07: Not giving up Lockheed Martin may have lost, but it didn’t give up. While “Hellfire Jr.” is an apt description of the class as a whole, it’s especially apt in this case. The DAGR (70mm Direct Attack Guided Rocket, not to be confused with DAGR hand-held GPS locators) completed development with private company funding. leveraging existing Hellfire and Joint Common Missile technology to create semi-active guided rockets that offer a wider aiming cone and full Hellfire functionality. Indeed, they can be launched from any platform that currently supports the Hellfire missile, removing any requirements for additional training or infrastructure.

    The DAGR rocket was formally unveiled as complete and for sale on Sept 11/07, at Britain’s DESi defense exhibition, and remains a strong competitor in the USA and beyond. See “Guided Hydra Rockets: Program Halts & New Entries” for more information, and updates re: programs from Lockheed Martin, Korea, Raytheon, ATK, et. al.

    March 2/07: Korea and the United States have agreed to cooperate in developing guided air-launched rockets, signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for “LOGIR” (Low-Cost Guided Imaging Rocket) development. The budget for this project is reportedly more than $60 million. See “Guided Hydra Rockets: Program Halts & New Entries” for more information and updates.
    (click to view full)

    April 27/06: The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command (AMCOM) awards a 3-year, $45.7 million contract to BAE Systems in Nashua, NH for the system development and demonstration of the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) II. The contract includes priced options for qualification of the system and 2 years of Low Rate Initial Production that could begin as early as 2007. The total program, if all options are exercised, will be $96.1 million.

    Interestingly, BAE Systems uses a mid-body guidance approach. The guidance component is its Distributed Aperture Semi-Active Laser Seeker (DASALS), which is also used in the Army’s Precision Guided Mortar Munitions Program. BAE Systems is partnered with General Dynamics (who makes the Hydra rockets) and Northrop Grumman, and is reported to be on track to provide the first production baseline units for evaluation prior to the Critical Design Review in July 2006. See also BAE North America release.

    DID’s focus article for the Hydra-70 rocket family goes into more detail re: the past history of the APKWS effort, including its cancellation and replacement by the APKWS II competition.

    Sept 29/05: BAE Systems announces [BAE North America release | different BAE Systems release] 2 successful flight tests at the U.S. Armys Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. Their 70mm rockets scored direct hits on laser-designated stationary and moving targets.

    BAE also announced that it will bid on APKWS II as a prime contractor, along with Northrop Grumman Corp. and General Dynamics. They join other consortia already in the APKWS II competition, led by Lockheed and Raytheon.