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  • Video: APKWS Goes to War
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 1:28 PM on Feb 14, 2012

    An unguided, Vietnam War-vintage missile with a dispersion pattern of up to 500 yards at medium ranges is being transformed into a precision air-to-ground weapon that already has been fired into a laser spot – about the size of a basketball – at a range of three miles.

    The new weapon, with a warhead that can punch through a wall and then explode, is expected to be operational on U.S. Marine Corps helicopters in Afghanistan as early as this spring.

    BAE Systems expects to deliver its next batch of low-rate production Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) missiles directly to the U.S. Marine Corps for shipment to operational units. The first 325 low-rate production missiles were delivered to the Navy Department in December, and the second lot of 600  will be dispatched in early fiscal 2012. With the end of operational testing in January, a full-rate production decision for about 1,000 missiles a year is expected to follow early in the year.

    “On the AH-1W Cobra it will fill the weapons gap between guns and the Hellfire,” says Maj. Ryan Schiller, former lead operational test director for Air Test and Evaluation Squadron-Nine (VX-9) at China Lake, Calif. Naval Air Warfare Center. “On the UH-1Y it will introduce a precision guided missile capability that is new for the Huey side of the house. The overall result is going to be a higher number of precision kills per sortie, and it will improve aircrew survivability due to increased standoff ranges. It also offers a low-yield weapon for urban conflict where collateral damage has to be minimized.”

    So how does the magic work with a missile that is 29% of the weight and about 15% of the cost of the benchmark AGM-114 Hellfire missile? Part of the answer is lots and lots of warehoused missiles that are already paid for and can be easily modified.

    BAE Systems came up with a mid-body addition – the WGU-59/B guidance section
    that can simply be screwed into place between the existing warhead and Mk. 66 Mod. 4 rocket motor, says Lt. Col. Raymond Schreiner, lead test pilot for VX-31 at China Lake.

    The mid-body guidance section has four small wings with flaperon flight-control surfaces on the trailing edge and an optical sensor on the leading edge of each.

    “The wings provide heavy, stable platforms,” says Dick Venuti, BAE Systems' technical director for missiles and munitions solutions.

    “When they open and lock, they become an optical bench. The missile’s accuracy depends on how much each wing doesn’t move.”

    Key to the mid-body design was development of the Distributed Aperture Semi-Active Laser’s electronics stack and optics. The package is about the size of a soda can with guidance, seeker, computers and receiver electronics all connected through four fiber-optic bundles to the optical sensors on each wing.

    During production, the wings and “eyeball” optics are folded and stored inside the missile where they are insulated with a “wing-slot seal” against weather, heat, particulates and blast damage from adjacent rockets. Before the missiles are loaded, they are updated with the laser code of the day.

    During the launch is where a mid-body sensor array shows its value.

    “Rockets with nose-mounted seekers have a tough time with adjacent rocket fire,” Venuti says. “It takes all the output of the rocket motor with its very corrosive, high aluminum content and puts it on the face of any exposed seeker. Inside the launcher, the overpressures were more than anyone expected. With APKWS, the missile interior is water-, pressure-, carbon- and aluminum-tight.”

    Read the Feb. 20 edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology for more details.

    Tags: APKWS, Afghanistan, ar99

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