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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{ 59 comments… read them below or add one }

anthony April 12, 2013 at 3:24 pm

I wonder could them choppers fly right now if ordered,are we gaining alot beter advance battle wise?

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Ben April 12, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Buddy, you're a mess.

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blight_ April 12, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Fire Scout A is in inventory. Fire Scout B is going through development. Both are based on COTS helicopter frames.

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FormerDirtDart April 12, 2013 at 7:36 pm

B & C. Fire-X, or MQ-8C is the model base on the Bell 407.

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Musson April 12, 2013 at 3:54 pm

What would the target be? Small boats?

I do not see this replacing the longer ranged fixed wing terrorist killing drones.

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STemplar April 12, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Yes, force protection for a surface force for sure. Counter piracy ops. any place really you wanted quick light CAS with no facilities or austere ones.

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blight_ April 12, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Force protection for force protection ships.

Who protects the force protectors?

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USS ENTERPRISE April 12, 2013 at 10:32 pm

More force protectors?

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crackedlenses April 13, 2013 at 4:07 am

So when do we get to the cheap, expendable part of our force protection for our force protectors?

blight_ April 12, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Small littorals in the littoral combat zone. Paving the way for littoral combat ships.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 12, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Small boats will be good. I think that some close, I mean REAL close air support for troops could also be another goal. Maybe like a little sidekick to the Apache or something.

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steve April 17, 2013 at 8:13 pm

If you know the damages that a 2.75 rocket can do, you would understand a lot more for its uses….Great fire power for the Scout Vehicles…..

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Sanem April 12, 2013 at 4:56 pm

mount them on Predators and Reapers instead of the Hellfires, more shots at a lower cost, and when shooting at people Hellfire is overkill anyway

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STemplar April 12, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Hydra's are only laser guided, Hellfires and Griffins have other targeting options. Weather is sucky in the Hindu Kush so when that target presents you don't want a rainy day spoiling your fun.

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Sanem April 13, 2013 at 5:25 am

which is why they like to carry mutliple variants of the Hellfire

but you can carry like 6 of the 70 mm ones for a single Hellfire, and probably at the same cost

so they'll probably start carrying these instead of the laser guided Hellfire, and carry other Hellfire variants and bombs for when the weather is bad

mind you, I'm all for radio guided grenades: cheap, you can carry plenty, very effective against infantry with minimal collateral damage, and very accurate. but than LMT and others wouldn't make such absurd amounts of money

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USS ENTERPRISE April 12, 2013 at 5:33 pm

I would imagine that these Fire Scouts are destined to the decks of Littoral class ships. I doubt a "serious" carrier will ever carry such a machine; there is already a massive debate and argument about a fixed wing drone. Personally, I would have liked to see a camera operated chin gun. In close quarter stuff, I would trust a gun to get the job done. A rocket would have some serious collateral damage, at least more than chin mounted gun.

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FormerDirtDart April 12, 2013 at 7:42 pm

Guns are area weapons, so a single laser-guided rocket would be much more able to engage a point target, with less collateral damage.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 12, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Well, I am saying if this was used in close quarters stuff. Like, sort of clearing a sniper nest. A rocket might be overkill.

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blight_ April 12, 2013 at 8:50 pm

If it's beam-riding, it shouldn't be too bad.

But you're comparing an accurized rocket to a burst of cannon fire.

If it was a regular 70mm rocket pod, then I'd agree on the overkill.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 12, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Thats my point. Unless its essential mid-sized firecracker, in close quarters combat, the gun rules. That is, until lasers and rail-guns go main stream in the US arsenal.

Tom April 15, 2013 at 3:18 pm

I think the whole helicopter piece is to keep the fight from getting into a close quarters fight. A bushmaster would be a heavy load (~260lbs w/o ammo) and less than half the effective range as the >20lb/ea. Hydras (weather permitting). If we've going to be putting high value targets (LCS) into littoral waters, this seem to be a good start at extending the engagement range.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 15, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Makes sense. But once again, I was referring to a side-kick Apache type thing. Maybe this thing is carried inside a humvee or something, and then launched and used against small, soft targets. Either way, I see your point.

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Tiger April 15, 2013 at 9:08 pm
blight_ April 16, 2013 at 7:50 pm

No reason to not put them on any other ship. But if you have to choose between LAMPS and a Fire Scout, well…

I suppose if the range is good, a Marine LPD could carry an intimidating arsenal of them. Put the GCS trailer on the deck and have Marine "pilots" gunning for you from the safety of the ship.

Or make the Navy do it. Your pick.

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Brad April 12, 2013 at 9:55 pm

These are perfect for those little Iranian speed boats. 1 rocket each and they are all at the bottom of davy jones locker. A very cost effective way to sink the majority of the Iranian navy, while not putting a single pilot at risk. If any speed boats do get thru, they will get zapped by a laser. Its a bad day to be in the republican guard or regular Iranian navy.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 12, 2013 at 10:33 pm

1) Lasers are yet to be implemented into the fleet. Yes, I do love the idea, but not just yet, sadly. And yes, these Fire Scouts has the stopping power, with its rockets, to take down little speed/patrol boats. But once again, wouldn't a chain gun?

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RunningBear April 12, 2013 at 11:19 pm

The USMC has been the main user in flight hours for these unmanned helicopters with the Kaman K-Max. Those 2.75" hydra-rockets are exactly what is required for light armored or unarmored troop carrying vehicles (technicals) as used in the third world. One rocket- one vehicle load. The LCS should be flying these MQ-8 for the littorals. The MH-60s can mount these with the existing Hellfires, from the CG/ DDG ships.

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ShadowDemon April 13, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Wouldn’t it be interesting to mount fifty 50mm guns on the sides of Navy ships and just let our sailors have some fun in the event of Iranian speed boats rushing the ships?

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blight_ April 13, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Ugh, you want to attack enemies on a fair footing?

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Kim April 14, 2013 at 4:24 pm

I doubt WW2 veterans thought shooting at Kamikaze planes was 'fun'….

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blight_ April 14, 2013 at 5:30 pm

It was undoubtedly difficult to kill kamikazes; certainly harder than shooting speedboats. But usually speedboats these days have ATGMs, or even anti-ship missiles.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 14, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Well true. But in kamikaze attacks, you had to engage MUCH faster aircraft. Seeing what happened to the USS Cole, I think that a navy ship could take the heat, and still, at very least, let its crew survive. At best, it could keep going.

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tiger April 15, 2013 at 9:15 pm

By the same token, a Anti tank missile will sink a speedboat. Still cheaper than this fancy laser option.

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blight_ April 15, 2013 at 9:43 pm

You mean cheaper than a 70mm rocket? Or perhaps a burst of them?

There's range too: putting the weapon on a UAV allows you to plink speedboats at ranges where the ATGM operator is gnashing their teeth. But if the speedboat has anti-ship missiles, then you need all the standoff you can get.

tiger April 15, 2013 at 9:12 pm

It is a lot simpler & cheaper than some fancy $40 million dollar laser. Although the 40mm Bofors would bring more power up close.

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blight_ April 16, 2013 at 11:34 am

Bow and arrow is cheaper than guns, but we still use guns because we can reach out and touch someone from a lot farther away.

/If/, and that's a emphasis on /if/, a laser can kill a speedboat outside of the effective range of a 40mm, it represents an advantage to the new platform. Put enough time and money into it and bring the price down, and people will wonder why we even had projectile weapons in the first place. It's natural for weapons to supersede each other, but only after technology (or a willingness to pay the price) comes through.

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Charlie April 17, 2013 at 5:10 am

50 cal. not 50mm machine guns. 50 cal. is 1/2 inch in diameter.. 50 mm is 2 in. in diameter and would be a cannon not a machine gun. As far as I know, we don't have any 50 mm weapons.

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blight_ April 17, 2013 at 7:21 am

Shh, don't interrupt the fantasy.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 17, 2013 at 11:02 am

A 50MM would dwarf the size of the Fire Scout. Heck, a 50cal would look rather big. But maybe something smaller? Ah, we settled this somewhere else, I think.

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blight_ April 15, 2013 at 10:01 am

LCS will become a drone carrier mothership. UAV drones to sweep mines and fire rockets at ground targets, USV's to sweep for mines and perhaps attack enemy subs.

Good time to rename the LCS…?

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USS ENTERPRISE April 15, 2013 at 10:43 am

I think that is a fair assessment. LCS are often the hated ships of the navy. But they do have the space to allow a Fire Scout to operate. So, LCS stands for Landing Craft ship, so a drone carrying ship would be DCS? Or since it retains the landing bit, LDCS?

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blight_ April 15, 2013 at 11:42 am

LCS was recently added to the hull classification symbols list. But it really should be Patrol, Gunboat.
http://www.nvr.navy.mil/class.htm

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tiger April 15, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Blight, with that weak ass 57mm You want to call it a gunboat? The damn Asherville class PG's had as much firepower for a lot cheaper. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asheville_class_gunb

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USS ENTERPRISE April 15, 2013 at 11:10 pm

Did you factor in the Fire Scout? Also, 57mm isn't exactly a slingshot. Oh, and don't forget the RAMs, and the "Griffen" rocket/missile/ thingumajig. Gunboat is quite an accurate classification.

USS ENTERPRISE April 15, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Wait, are we discussing a landing ship or the Littoral ships that are being built? Both can be abbreviated as LCS. If its the Littorals, I support those ships; they could replace Coast Guard Cutters. Heck, you could put VLSes all over the thing, but you would end up with a Zumwalt. Eh. I support them, and I can definitely see fire scouts being launched from Littorals.

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blight_ April 16, 2013 at 11:09 am

You may have mixed up your prefixes. There is no Landing Craft Ship, the term Craft and Ship are mutually exclusive.

Landing Craft are LC. Landing Ships are LS.

Example of the LC: LCU, Landing Craft, Utility
Example of the LS: LST, Landing Ship, Tank.

And we no longer have LS', but that's another story.

blight_ April 16, 2013 at 11:13 am

Putting VLS tubes would require some serious modifications in the design. Ideally, a short-length, compact VLS could be squeezed in where the NLOS was supposed to go, but a VLS without an SPY-1 or the capability to link with the rest of the fleet to get targeting information would be dicey. It also contradicts the original mantra of fast, cheap, and numerous.

I'd always hoped that the Navy would buy those proposed export LCS that could actually be Littoral Combat Ships at a 3:1 ratio with the modulars, or even a 2:1. The export LCS had some serious sting, and would fulfill the fighting mission that the Navy still needs, and allow the present LCS to fulfill the modular missions that are also required.

wpnexp April 19, 2013 at 1:45 pm

No one want to command a gun boat though. Certainly can't get Congress to order a whole bunch of gunboats. Corvette is a better designation. While it is designed to be a flexible design, it still appears to be a whole under armed vessel for its size.

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blight_ April 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Changing the name is putting lipstick on a pig.

Kdubya April 16, 2013 at 9:32 pm

LCS stands for Littoral Combat Ship and Firescout was designed as one of its mission modules from the beginning…

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tiger April 15, 2013 at 9:20 pm

Hmmmm…. LSC-Little Ship that Can't (do much)?

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USS ENTERPRISE April 15, 2013 at 11:10 pm

Or, the Little Ship that Could.

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Charlie May 30, 2014 at 7:51 pm

This is smart, It's a scout and so occasionally it comes across targets of opportunity while scouting an area. Much of the same reason we arm the legacy scout helicopter the OH-6. Say you're scouting an area and you pick up command level communications coming from a tracked vehicle. Boom.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 13, 2013 at 10:18 am

Well, congress claims that role is served by the F-35.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 16, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Okay. Thanks. Makes sense. For a moment there I thought you were complaining about the Littoral ships we are making.

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blight_ April 16, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Oh, but I am!

The LCS was first supposed to be a littoral combatant, then it was tasked to be modular, then it was tasked to be the mother of all drone carriers in order to execute any of the modular missions it was tasked to execute.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 16, 2013 at 8:44 pm

Well, sorry, but I disagree here. Littorals can offer nice cover support to battle groups, and could work as escort ships for Naval cargo supply boats. The drones on board can help take out any little speed boats that stand in the way. The way I see it, with the mission of the Littorals changing often, it shows that the ships are highly versatile.

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blight_ April 16, 2013 at 10:46 pm

The bad news is that the turnaround for module switch is not as quick as promised early on. Chances are you will fight with the modules you have available, and will have to withdraw to swap modules. In which case, you are going to scrounge up ships with the proper module rather than pull a ship and do the plug-and-play, or use the wrong module for a certain task.

For instance, MCM and ASW are separate modules, and might not necessarily be used in the same hull. If you had a MCM ship, would you take a ship out of the fight to put an ASW module on it, knowing it would take a few days, or try and scrounge up a ship from somewhere nearby? But if you do that, why have modules?

What'll probably happen is that LCS will carry two fire scouts, but it won't have a GCS. It'll depend on some other ship to do that, unless it requires a Module space. And then no ASW or MCM missions. You'd need three LCS to do UAV, ASW and MCM, and that's assuming one LCS is good enough to do the mission at hand.

If the LCS could do more missions than one module, we might have something. But until that changes, they are depressingly specialized and take too long to retool.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 16, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Well, to your module argument, why don't we have half of the fleet with say, the MCM module, and the other half with ASW? If we need more ASW ships, then convert the MCMs over to that. True, it will take some time, but if the fleet is rather sizable, than what is the problem? Personally, I lean more to adding the Independence Class than the Freedom, as it appears that the Independence is larger and much more versatile.

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