Home » Air » Navy loads laser-guided rockets to Fire Scout

Navy loads laser-guided rockets to Fire Scout

by Kris Osborn on April 12, 2013

The U.S. Navy is adding laser-guided, precision-fire rockets to its vertical take-off and landing Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), service officials said.

The helicopter-like reconnaissance drone is currently being configured with Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS), a precision-guidance weapons technology program providing 2.75 folding-fin hydra-70 rockets with laser-guided pinpoint accuracy.

“An armed Fire Scout will be able to detect, track, identify, engage and assess reducing the sensor-to-shooter kill chain timeline while providing the ship additional security options. Arming the Fire Scout with the laser-guided rocket will enable the unmanned helicopter to engage hostile targets independent of air support from carrier groups or shore-based aircraft,” said Capt. Patrick Smith, Fire Scout program manager.

The Navy is currently completing Fire Scout-APKWS ground tests at Naval Air Station (NAS) Paxtuxent River, Md., events to be followed by test-firing events at China Lake, Calif., in May 2013, Smith added.

The testing is aimed at refining and solidifying the system integration of adding the weaponry capability to the Fire Scout, according to Smith.

“This is to test the effect of armament gas ingestion on the engine’s performance using an inert APKWS guidance section with a live 2.75” rocket motor. The objective of the test is to confirm there are no impacts to the aircraft’s engine performance during a shot,” Smith said.

In development for several years now, the 31-foot long, 2,00-pound helicopter-like MQ-8B Fire Scout UAS is engineered to take-off and land without needing an airstrip or runway, giving it the ability to more easily launch from a ship or land in a more austere forward environment.

The reconnaissance drone, equipped with Electro-Optical/Infra-red cameras and a laser-designator, can beam images back from altitudes up to 20,000-feet and travel at speeds up to 110 knots, according to Navy figures.

“This capability will provide ship Commanders a rapid-response capability to address maritime threats. It provides for greater protection of the ships by having the capability to engage at extended ranges,” Smith said.

The APKWS system, being developed by BAE Systems under a developmental Navy contract, not only improves the accuracy of the Hydra-70 rockets but also greatly extends the range of the weapon, according to statements from BAE Systems.

APKWS includes a warhead, guidance section, rocket motor and fins; the warhead is engineered with laser seekers able to locate the signal from a laser-designator and guide the round to the precise spot of the target, BAE sources indicate.

“The APKWS system is a semi-active laser guidance kit added to current 2.75 inch rockets. This design gives an 40º instantaneous Field of Regard, creating a very large acquisition basket. The APWKS rocket begins looking for a target as soon as possible, usually within 0.7–0.8 seconds after rocket separation.  Once the target is acquired, the APKWS rocket will navigate to the spot of the laser designation using proportional navigation,” said Dave Harrold, director of Precision Guidance Solutions, BAE Systems. “Our target specification is 80% within a 2 meter CEP {Circular Error Probable}, but our average miss distance from the center of the laser spot is 0.44 meters, far exceeding the specification.”

Navy developers are enthusiastic about adding APKWS to the Fire Scout platform; APKWS is currently employed on UH-1Y and AH-1Z helicopters.

“Fire Scout greatly extends and improves the fleet’s ability to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. It gives the ship and the detachment greater flexibility in meeting operational needs, and frees manned aircraft to support other high-demand missions,” Smith said.

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