Bolt from the blue: as aerial combat becomes a distant memory, the emphasis in aircraft armament is now on the ground attack role, with growing demands for day and night all-weather precision weapon delivery against fixed and moving targets, the minimum of collateral damage and the ability to out-range increasingly effective ground defences.

Author:Braybrook, Roy
Position::Missiles: AGM/cruise

At the lower end of the cost, range and terminal effectiveness scales, there has long been a valid argument in favour of adding laser guidance and control kits to the leading nations' vast stocks of rocket projectiles. With the exception of the Israeli use of helicopter-launched rockets against civilian vehicles (a highly reliable source informed the author that this could only be achieved when agents place emitters on the vehicles), such developments have taken a long time to eventuate. This may be ascribed to the restricted target set that is vulnerable to the most widely available rockets of around 70 mm calibre.

This effectiveness limitation does not apply to Russia's 122 mm S-13L, which weighs 75 kg and carries a 31.8 kg warhead, making it a threat to bridges and command bunkers. It will be interesting to see if a laser-guided version of Russia's 480 kg, 340 mm S-25 is also produced.

On a more modest level, in 2003 the US Army awarded to General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products (GDATP) a contract to act as systems integrator for the Block I development of the guided version of the 70 mm APKWS (Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System). APKWS is the company's new name for the Hydra-70 rocket, although the old name was still in use when the US Army placed a five-year contract for continued production in May 2005. BAE Systems of Nashua, New Hampshire, is to provide the Distributed Aperture Semi-Active Laser Seeker, which is fitted between the warhead and the motor, and employs fixed sensors in the leading edges of its four foldout control canards. This location for the guidance and control section is to permit a wider range of warheads than a nose mounting.

The APKWS has a launch weight of only 12.0 kg with a 3.95 kg warhead, making it highly suitable for drone applications. The US Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate has recently developed a four-round launcher for use on platforms such as the SAIC Vigilante unmanned helicopter.


The generation of anti-tank guided weapons represented by the Raytheon BGM-71 Tow and the MBDA Hot has proven to be fundamentally sound and suitable for extensive developments.

Some 85,000 examples of the 24 kg MBDA Hot have been ordered by 18 countries. The latest version is the Hot 3, with considerably improved terminal effectiveness and anti-jamming performance. The Hot 3 has been chosen for the Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopter, but the German Army is hoping for funds to replace it with the 48 kg Eads-LFK Trigat-LR, employing imaging-infrared guidance. The Trigat-LR was designed to meet a Franco-German requirement for a fire-and-forget anti-armour missile with a range of five kilometres (compared to 4.3 for the Hot and 3.75 for the basic Tow), which is probably the maximum distance at which a tank can be seen from the air under most European operational conditions. If required, the range of the Trigat-LR could be extended to seven kilometres.

Raytheon has manufactured over 660,000 Tow missiles, and the series remains in service in more than 40 countries. The Tow-2A Bunker Buster is scheduled to be fielded on the US Army Stryker vehicle. The anti-armour Tow-2B is designed for fly-over top-attack, using two downward-firing explosively-formed penetrators and thus lacking the nose probe of the direct-attack round. The Tow-2B Aero has a low-drag nose and a longer control wire, allowing its improved aerodynamic range of 4.5 kilometres

to be fully exploited.

The Tow-2B RF has a one-way stealthy radio command link that provides an alternative guidance means to reach that range. This RF version has been demonstrated successfully, but still requires further development. Early in 2005 the US Army signed a $ 32.3 million contract with Raytheon for the further production of the Itas (Improved Target Acquisition Systems) for Tow. The US Army and Marine Corps already have fielded more than 7000 ground vehicle-and helicopter-mounted Itas advanced fire control kits. The Tow-2B with Itas has been selected as the US Marine Corps next-generation AAWS-H (Anti-Armour Weapon System--Heavy).

In replacing ATGWs initially designed for a Central European war, the wider market demand is for longer range coupled with a reduced flight time (i.e., supersonic cruise) and a lock-on-after-launch facility. Earlier requirements for a fire-and-forget capability now appear to have been superseded by a desire to retain man-in-the-loop guidance in order to minimise friendly fire incidents and collateral damage.

Some of these requirements are already satisfied by the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire II, which cruises supersonically and has a range of over eight kilometres. Over 18,000 Hellfires have been manufactured for the US services and 14 export customers, and more than 1000 rounds were fired in Iraq.

The Hellfire II is currently available in four forms. The baseline 45 kg AGM-114K has a Heat (High Explosive, Anti-Tank) warhead, and employs laser spot homing. Target designation can be provided by a forward air controller. The AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire (which weighs 49 kg, typical of later variants) has the same warhead, but includes millimetre-wave radar guidance for adverse weather engagements and...

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