Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System
The Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) is a design conversion of Hydra 70 unguided rockets with a laser guidance kit to turn them into precision-guided munitions (PGMs). APKWS is approximately one-third the cost and one-third the weight of the current inventory of laser-guided weapons, has a lower yield more suitable for avoiding collateral damage, and takes one quarter of the time for ordnance personnel to load and unload. As of February of 2019, BAE Systems had manufactured 25,000 APKWS units.
Where possible the system utilizes existing Hydra 70 components such as launchers, rocket motors, warheads and fuzes. The weapon bridges the gap between the Hydra 70 and AGM-114 Hellfire systems and provides a cost-effective method of engaging lightly armored point targets. APKWS is the U.S. government's only program of record for the semi-active, laser-guided 2.75-inch (70 millimeter) rocket. It converts the Hydra 70 unguided rocket into a precision guided munition through the addition of a mid-body guidance unit developed by BAE Systems. The APKWS has also been successfully tested in live fire exercises with the Forges de Zeebrugge (FZ) unguided rocket, converting it into a precision guided munition and demonstrating the technology can be used on other rocket types than the Hydra 70.
The APKWS II uses the Distributed Aperture Semi-Active Laser Seeker (DASALS) technology. This system allows a laser seeker to be located in the leading edge of each of the forward control canards, working in unison as if they were a single seeker. This configuration allows existing warheads from the Hydra 70 system to be used without the need for a laser seeker in the missile nose.
The APKWS II system is composed of the launch platform, rockets equipped with the WGU-59/B mid-body guidance unit, the lengthened 7-tube LAU-68 F/A rocket launcher, the SCS 7 aiming cue (not needed for attack helicopters), and Fastpack PA-140 and CNU-711/E storage kits for rockets and guidance kits, respectively, to ensure they are safe in the field. The WGU-59/B mid-body guidance unit is equipped with DASALS seeker optics which deploy 0.5 seconds after launch and is attached in between the Mk 66 Mod 4 rocket motor and a warhead and fuze, which increases length by 18.5 in (47 cm) and weight by 9 lb (4.1 kg) over the legacy Hydra system. Firing ranges are 1,100-5,000 meters, the former of which can be hit less than 5 seconds after firing. Maximum range is constrained by use of the existing Hydra 70 motor, but since the seeker can see as far as 14 km (8.7 mi), a more powerful motor could extend range while retaining accuracy; Nammo is working on a modified rocket motor that can extend range to 12–15 km (7.5–9.3 mi).
- Length: 73.8 in (1.87 m)
- Diameter: 2.75 in (70 mm)
- Wingspan: 9.55 in (24.3 cm)
- Weight: 32 lb (15 kg)
- Speed: 1,000 m/s (3,600 km/h; 2,200 mph; Mach 2.9) at max
- Range: 1,100–5,000 m (0.68–3.11 mi) (rotary wing); 2–11 km (1.2–6.8 mi) (fixed wing)
- Guidance: Semi-active laser homing
- CEP: <0.5 meters
- Motor: Existing Hydra 70 motors
- Warhead: Existing Hydra 70 warheads
- Unit cost: ~ $22,500
- APKWS is a “plug and play,” “point and shoot” weapon, and is fired like the unguided 2.75-inch rocket. The weapon is easily assembled and can be shot with minimal instruction, as if it were an unguided rocket.
- 2002: APKWS development test series begins.
- April 2005: General Dynamics APKWS program cancelled due to poor test results.
- September 2005: Successful flight test of BAE APKWS II.
- October 2005: Competition re-opened as APKWS II.
- April 2006: BAE Systems selected as prime contractor for the APKWS II program.
- February 2007: Funding for program withdrawn in proposed FY2008 budget.
- May 2007: Successful flight test of BAE APKWS II in production-ready configuration.
- November 2008: Transfer of contract from US Army to US Navy.
- March 2012: APKWS II achieves initial operating capability (IOC) and is sent to Afghanistan with United States Marine Corps. Plans are to integrate it onto the MQ-8 Fire Scout.
- July 2012: BAE Systems receives full-rate production contract for APKWS from the U.S. Navy. The first FRP deliveries were in October 2012 and the company expected the next FRP option to be awarded by the end of 2012.
- September 2012: The Navy awards a contract to officially integrate the APKWS into the Fire Scout.
- October 2012: BAE announces its intention to modify the APKWS II to be fired from fixed-wing tactical fighter platforms.
- January 2013: Additional conversion kits ordered. No in flight failures during the 100 combat launches in Afghanistan to date.
- February 2013: APKWS launched from an A-10 Thunderbolt II. Three sorties were conducted. The first sortie carried the rocket and launcher, and the second sortie fired an inert, unguided rocket to ensure the weapon would separate from the aircraft. Two armed rockets were fired during the third sortie from 10,000 and 15,000 feet. The second rocket launched into a 70 knot headwind, and both impacted within inches of the target. The Air Force is considering using the APKWS II operationally by 2015 if further testing is successful.
- March 2013: APKWS is integrated onto the Bell 407GT.
- April 2013: A UH-1Y Venom fired 10 APKWS rockets at stationary and moving small boat targets, scoring 100 percent accurate hits on single and multiple targets over water. The engagement ranged from 2–4 km using inert Mk152 high explosive and MK149 flechette warheads. The UH-1Y had the boats designated by an MH-60S.
- October 2013: APKWS successfully fired from an AH-64 Apache. Eight rockets were fired with the helicopter flying at up to 150 kn (170 mph; 280 km/h) and up to 5 km (3.1 mi) from the target. Launch altitudes ranged from 300 ft to 1,500 ft. BAE wants airworthiness qualification on the Apache for international sales to AH-64 operators.
- March 2014: LAU-61 G/A Digital Rocket Launcher (DRL) deployed with HSC-15.
- July 2014: BAE reveals that the APKWS has reached Early Operational Capability (EOC) with one squadron of MH-60S helicopters. The MH-60R will be outfitted within "12-18 months."
- August 2014: APKWS tested on Australian Army Eurocopter Tiger at Woomera Test Range. A helicopter was on the ground and fired seven rockets which successfully hit their targets. The rocket could enter Australian service by early 2015 on army Tigers and navy MH-60R helicopters.
- November 2014: APKWS tested on Australian Army, 16 Aviation Brigade, Eurocopter Tigers, this time airborne, near Darwin. Tests included using APKWS to convert a Forges de Zeebrugge (FZ) unguided rocket into a laser precision-guided weapon. All 10 rockets struck within a metre of the laser spot.
- October 2015: US Army AH-64 Apache helicopters to field weapon in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- March 2016: First rocket variants for launch from fixed-wing aircraft shipped to Marine Corps Harriers.
- June 2016: APKWS deployed on USAF F-16 and A-10 as part of an urgent operational requirement.
- October 2016: Production rate increased to 5,000 a year.
- June 2016-January 2017: 200 APKWS used against ISIL targets, including 60 during the Battle of Mosul.
- February 2018: First operational deployment of APKWS on Marine Corps legacy F/A-18 Hornets.
Future and Potential Users
On 14 April 2014, the U.S. Navy signed an agreement with the Jordanian Air Force for the first international sale of the APKWS for use on the CN-235 gunship. Jordan received 110 units in late November 2015.
In June 2015, a deal to sell 6 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to the Lebanese Air Force was approved that included the sale of 2,000 APKWS rockets for use on the turboprops. The US$462 million sale was financed by Saudi Arabia.
- Current rotary wing:
- Current fixed-wing
- Planned rotary wing
- Planned fixed-wing
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- Distributed Aperture Semi-Active Laser Seeker (DASALS) - BAE Systems
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- Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System - Defense Update
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