The versatile warhead of APKWS: BAE Systems' laser-guided rocket system
APKWS: The Laser-Guided Rocket System by BAE Systems
If you are looking for a cost-effective, precise, and versatile weapon system that can hit targets with minimal collateral damage, you might want to check out the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) by BAE Systems. APKWS is a laser-guidance kit that transforms unguided 2.75-inch rockets into precision-guided munitions (PGMs) that can be used by various platforms and against various targets. In this article, we will explain what APKWS is, how it works, what are its benefits, how it is used, how it is evolving, and what are some frequently asked questions about it.
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What is APKWS?
APKWS is the U.S. government's only Program of Record for the semi-active, laser-guided 2.75 inches (70 mm) 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 kit includes four guidance wings with optics that lock onto a laser designator from the launch platform or another source. The guidance unit also has a built-in safety and arming device that prevents accidental detonation. The APKWS kit can be attached to existing Hydra 70 warheads and fuzes, such as high-explosive, fragmentation, flechette, smoke, illumination, and practice rounds.
How does it work?
The APKWS system works by using a semi-active laser seeker that detects the reflected laser energy from a designated target and guides the rocket towards it. The seeker is located in the leading edge of each of the four guidance wings, which are protected by wing-slot seals prior to launch. The seals prevent damage or debris from affecting the seeker performance. Once the rocket is fired, the wings deploy and the seeker acquires the target. The guidance unit then adjusts the wing angles to steer the rocket to the target with high accuracy. The warhead detonates on impact or at a predetermined distance from the target.
What are the benefits of APKWS?
The APKWS system offers several advantages over other weapon systems, such as:
Cost-effectiveness: APKWS is approximately one-third the cost and one-third the weight of other laser-guided weapons, making it affordable and efficient to use.
Precision: APKWS has a high hit rate and low miss distance, ensuring that the target is destroyed with minimal collateral damage.
Versatility: APKWS can be used on various platforms, such as helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and ground-based launchers. It can also engage various targets, such as lightly armored vehicles, bunkers, personnel, boats, and drones.
Compatibility: APKWS can use existing Hydra 70 components, such as launchers, rocket motors, warheads, and fuzes, reducing the need for new equipment and training.
Safety: APKWS has a built-in safety and arming device that prevents accidental detonation. It also has a low-yield warhead that reduces collateral damage.
How is APKWS used?
APKWS has been used by various U.S. military services and foreign allies in various missions and scenarios.
Which platforms can launch APKWS?
APKWS can APKWS can be launched from a variety of platforms, both air- and ground-based. According to BAE Systems, the APKWS guidance kit is qualified on more than 25 platforms, including:
Rotary-wing aircraft: AH-1W/Z Super Cobra/Viper, AH-64 Apache, AH-6 Little Bird, UH-1Y Venom, UH-60 Black Hawk, OH-58 Kiowa Warrior, MH-60S/R Seahawk, and CH-53E Super Stallion.
Fixed-wing aircraft: A-10 Thunderbolt II, AV-8B Harrier II, F-16 Fighting Falcon, AC-130W Stinger II, AC-130J Ghostrider, OV-10 Bronco, and AT-6 Wolverine.
Unmanned aerial systems: MQ-1C Gray Eagle and MQ-8B/C Fire Scout.
Ground-based launchers: M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and M260/M261 launchers mounted on ground vehicles.
Which targets can APKWS engage?
APKWS can engage a wide range of targets, both moving and stationary, in open or confined areas. Some examples of targets that APKWS can destroy or neutralize are:
Lightly armored vehicles, such as trucks, jeeps, and armored personnel carriers.
Bunkers, buildings, and fortifications.
Personnel in the open or under cover.
Boats and watercraft.
Drones and other low-flying aircraft.
How many APKWS have been delivered and used?
Since 2012, BAE Systems has delivered over 50,000 APKWS guidance kits to the U.S. military and foreign allies. The APKWS system has been used in combat operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and other locations. The U.S. Navy is the program of record for APKWS and manages its procurement for all U.S. military services. The U.S. Army is the largest user of APKWS, followed by the U.S. Marine Corps. The U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Special Operations Command also use APKWS for various missions.
How is APKWS evolving?
APKWS is not a static system that remains unchanged over time. BAE Systems and its partners are constantly working to improve the performance, capability, and availability of APKWS to meet the changing needs of the warfighters.
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What are the recent upgrades to APKWS?
In 2021, BAE Systems announced an upgrade to the APKWS guidance kit that increases its range by up to 30 percent. The upgrade optimizes the flight trajectory of the rocket so that it can hit targets at a steeper angle of attack for enhanced lethality. The upgrade also includes options to improve training with APKWS by using inert warheads or telemetry modules. The upgraded version of APKWS will be the only version in production starting from early 2022.
What are the future plans for APKWS?
BAE Systems has several plans to further develop and expand the use of APKWS in the future. Some of these plans are:
Integrating APKWS with more platforms, such as F/A-18 Super Hornet, F-35 Lightning II, MQ-9 Reaper, C-130 Hercules, and A/MH-6M Little Bird.
Developing new warheads and fuzes for APKWS to increase its effectiveness against different types of targets.
Exploring new applications for APKWS in maritime and anti-air domains.
Increasing the production capacity and availability of APKWS to meet the growing demand from domestic and international customers.
What are the challenges and opportunities for APKWS?
As with any weapon system, APKWS faces some challenges and opportunities in its current and future operations. Some of these are:
Challenges: Maintaining reliability and safety standards; complying with export regulations and policies; competing with other weapon systems in the market; adapting to evolving threats and scenarios; ensuring interoperability and compatibility with other systems; managing costs and resources; sustaining customer satisfaction and trust.
Opportunities: Leveraging existing infrastructure and components; exploiting technological innovations and advancements; expanding customer base and market share; enhancing operational flexibility and versatility; improv