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Navy Tests ‘Smart’ Helicopter Rocket Launchers

by Brendan McGarry on April 9, 2014

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The U.S. Navy has begun testing “smart” rocket launchers aboard MH-60R Seahawk helicopters, officials said.

The San Diego-based Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 15 is evaluating 22 of the new digital rocket launchers, which were delivered last month as part of a two-year rapid deployment program, according to Capt. Al Mousseau, who manages the service’s Direct and Time Sensitive Program Office.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here,” Mousseau said on Wednesday during a presentation at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Md. The service plans to integrate another 30 systems onto MH-60S choppers over the next year, he said.

Each of the launchers is capable of firing 19 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System rockets made by BAE Systems Plc, Mousseau said. That’s almost triple the capacity of current seven-tube launchers found on AH-1 Cobras and UH-1 Hueys, he said.

Engineers, technicians and contractors at Indian Head, Md., outfitted existing launchers with new digital electronics hardware that allows pilots to fire the “smart” rockets from specific tubes, Mousseau said. The eventual goal is for the launchers to be able to carry a mixed load of guided and unguided weapons, he said.

The Navy began the rapid deployment program in 2012, Mousseau said. The acquisition effort, which began with the Army, is estimated to cost less than $100 million and overcame numerous developmental challenges, such as figuring out how to make the electronics withstand the type of vibrations found on ships and aircraft, he said.

The APKWS converts a 2.75-inch Hydra rocket into a “smart” munition by adding a semi-active laser guidance and control mid-section. It’s a low-cost option for precision strike, costing less than $30,000 apiece — roughly a third of the price tag of an AGM-114 Hellfire missile made by Lockheed Martin Corp. While not as powerful as the Hellfire, the APKWS is effective at soft, light targets such as wheeled vehicles and small boats.

In addition to the Navy and Marine Corps rotorcraft, BAE has also tested the weapon on the Army’s AH-64 Apache attack helicopter and OH-58 Kiowa scout chopper, among other aviation platforms, according to David Harrold, director of precision guidance solutions and electronic systems at the company.

The company expects to receive another Navy contract for the system later this year, Harrold said. It also expects to announce its first foreign military sale of the system in coming months, he said.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Juramentado April 9, 2014 at 1:18 pm

It also will be able to feedback to the weps panel exactly how many rockets remain in the tube, also a useful thing in the heat of a gunfight. Amazingly, that never existed with current Hydra pods, or at least my brown shoe friends tell me so.

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MMM April 10, 2014 at 12:44 pm

In the Army, we have always been able to see the remaining inventory of all munitions, whether Hellfire, 30 MM, or 2.75 in rockets. Most of the time, though we never used the rockets b/c they weren't precision, mostly considered an area weapon system just like the 30mm. This will be a good addition to the overall package. Plus, it sure is fun to shoot rockets!

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Lance April 9, 2014 at 2:02 pm

That's smart power like the idea of in some cases a cheap 2.75 inch rocket doing a job a Hellfire missiles can do that's smart buying power.

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fng April 9, 2014 at 2:22 pm

It takes up to $100 million dollars for a system to say "yep there a missile in the tube." I feel that is a little ridiculous.

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d. h. gilmour April 9, 2014 at 3:46 pm

The article states that different types of missles can be carried in the launcher and can be selected as to which the gunner wants to use. At least they are going to a higher capacity on the gunships then we used in Nam. The Marine hueys carried I beleive it was 8 in each circular pod while the army used either a 12 or 18 place pod usually on each side of the bird

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Dale Parker April 10, 2014 at 1:28 pm

In Nam we used either the 7 round pods or the nineteen on UH1C gunships. The pods use sepended on the other armament system used. Minigun system used two seven round pods. The 40mm grenade system used either two seven round pods or two nineteen round pods. Then there were the hogs that used either two twenty four or two nineteen round pods. Some pilots were really good with them but most were area fire. Guided rockets would be a definite plus. Three years in Huey gunships in Nam gives me a tad of knowledge. Loved it at the time!

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Charles James Haas April 14, 2014 at 1:22 pm

This is a laser guided rocket, not unguided. It takes money to make sure the launchers and the laser guidance sync. Also, you missed the point that the missiles are operating out at sea, instead of typical land based operations, which also too funding to ensure the electronics were stable.

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JohnnyRanger April 10, 2014 at 8:21 am

I don't know why this article states that the AH-1's can only carry the 7-round pods. That is simply not true; they can and do carry the 19-round pods.

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152DB April 10, 2014 at 8:36 am

In the aviation community we have been saying for years we needed a guided rocket, which I guess would them make the rocket a missile. The unguided hyra-70 rockets are considered an area fire weapon, like a mortar or a machinegun. When you are carrying 7 rockets and a .50 cal machinegun, both area fire weapons you need a lot of live fire practise to get accurate with them. Having a precision rocket would be like bringing a sniper rifle to the fight. I wish I was still in the fight to use these weapons.

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SMSgt Mac April 10, 2014 at 11:18 am

The price will plummet when volume buys kick in. There was no mention in the article, but the system is also tested/in test for A-10s and there have over a hundred combat launches in Afghanistan by USMC Cobras “without malfunction”. Expect fast movers to get this as well, though perhaps with different launchers.

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jake April 10, 2014 at 4:28 pm

$90,000 a rocket. $90’000 a rocket… I am in shock. They basically shoot the value of a z06 ccorvette every explosion.

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Charles James Haas April 14, 2014 at 1:32 pm

No, it is $90,000 for a Hellfire missile not a rocket. That is why they are promoting the APKWS, as it will cost less. Hellfire missiles are designed to take out multi-million dollar tanks, so they aren't wildly priced. Unfortunately, we have used them against a handful of Taliban and Al-Quaida militants. So, the APKWS is really very much needed. They will also be used to take out light vehicles, boats, and other targets, which again will often cost more than $30,000 price of the APKWS.

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blight_ April 14, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Also cheaper than chucking TOW missiles into Uday and Qusay's house.

They weren't worth a TOW…maybe a 106mm.

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Stan April 11, 2014 at 3:23 pm

Smack these bad boys on a predator and send it out to watch over foot patrols in pretty much anywhere we have soldiers in danger — instant close air support and over the hill surveillance.

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Charles James Haas April 14, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Predators operate at altitudes of around 20,000 feet normally. Not sure, but it seems like the operating altitude might be a little to high.

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@GreensboroVet April 11, 2014 at 9:01 pm

Hi. Old arty 13-B here. Here is a wild thought. Build a land version of this thing hook to a nuke plant and use it as a global strike weapon. I did say a wild thought. But can you imagine the hitting/ impact on a target. Would the round even show up on radar as it exits and reenter the atmosphere?

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