70mm Hydra rockets have been a mainstay of the US military since the 1940s. They're less expensive and cause less collateral damage than, say, a Hellfire-sized ordnance. Problem is—they don't steer well, or rather, at all. A new laser-guidance upgrade from BAE Systems, however, is poised to make the Hydra-70 much agile and much more deadly.
A 70mm rocket's size and warhead—weighing anywhere from 7 to 17 pounds—are generally good enough for unarmored military targets and lightly reinforced buildings. Problem is—they only blow up what they're pointed at (assuming they actually hit it). The Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, however, is the first to deliver this level of aiming precision. The APKWS is designed to make the $1,000 Hydra do more than a conventional 70mm rocket can without costing taxpayers $70,000 a pop, as Hellfires do.
The APKWS isn't like other add-on guidance systems. Rather than being embedded in the nose of the rocket, the APKWS installs between the warhead and rocket motor. This installation doesn't require specialized training or tools, meaning that crews can easily add this capability in the field. The system employs the Distributed Aperture Semi-Active Laser Seeker (DASALS), BAE's proprietary guidance method which mounts fiber-optic sensors on the rocket's pop-out fins. This is done so that multiple guided rockets can be fired at the same time. See, if you try to rapid-fire multiple guided missiles, there's a good chance the rockets in the back of the pack will be damaged by the soot, the flames, the heat, or the chop of the lead rockets. By placing the guidance system further back, more rockets can be fired more quickly and with less interference. What's more, the APKWS can also be aimed by an autonomous weapons platform or be guided into its target with a laser designator.
"This weapon, now deployed in Afghanistan, continues to prove it is a precise, rapid-fire missile system, available at one-third of the cost and one-third of the weight of the existing inventory of laser-guided weapons," said John Watkins, director of Precision Guidance Solutions for BAE Systems. "These tests demonstrated APKWS' ability to hit targets at close range and penetrate complex targets in urban terrain, which is vital when supporting troops on the ground." The APKWS has been deployed in Afghanistan since March of this year and has already been fired from AH-1W and UH-1Y helicopters in support of ground troops. Military brass are now considering adapting the system to work on other weapon platforms such as the MQ-8B Fire Scout and the MH-60B.