New laser-guided rocket capability tested

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Team Eglin answered the warfighter’s call to rapidly test, integrate and deploy a high precision, low collateral weapon for immediate use in theater – in just six months.

Brig. Gen. Shaun Morris, Air Force Program Executive Officer for Weapons and director of the Armament Directorate, assembled a team to produce a rapid fielding plan for the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System II, a laser-guided rocket that turns existing Hydra 70 unguided rockets into precision-guided munitions through the addition of a laser guidance kit.

APKWS fills the gap between an unguided 2.75-inch rocket and the Hellfire missile at less than one-third of the cost with a multi-shot capability. The conversion is an inexpensive modification designed to destroy targets while limiting collateral damage in close combat, according to Maj. Jesse Moreno, APKWS program manager.

“We delivered an Initial Fielding Capability to the warfighter in March, three months faster than originally planned,” said Moreno. “We also achieved integration of APWKS with the M151 high explosive fragmentation warhead in July, also ahead of schedule by four months.”

The M151, employed against personnel, material and non-armored vehicles, is one of several warheads in the Hydra 70 family. Traditionally referred to as the “10-Pounder,” the weapon’s burst radius is ten meters, however, high velocity fragments can expand its lethality radius beyond 50 meters causing excessive damage. APKWS reduces the M151’s collateral damage while maintaining its integrity in combat.

To accelerate progress, the APKWS Program Office assembled stakeholders from across the Air Force and coordinated with its Navy partners to formulate a plan to integrate the M151 with existing rotary wing hardware. This teamwork was essential, because the Navy owned the program of record, contracting vehicles and production line for APKWS II, according to Moreno.

The team also leveraged the expertise of the 96th Test Wing community to execute a rapid test event known as Plan 70, where all wing resources were brought to bear on a single test effort to meet and exceed the expected timeline. The effort proved successful as a Compatibility Captive Flight Profile test was performed in just 14 days, as compared to the average timeline of three months.

“The 96th TW demonstrated its ability to be flexible and executed with precision, delivering a low collateral, moving target, precision attack, and game-changing weapon ahead of schedule,” said Joseph Rojas, Air Force Seek Eagle Office F-16 Project Manager.  

According to Moreno, what makes the CFP effort crucial is it’s the lead requirement to receiving an Air Force Seek Eagle Office store certification recommendation – clearance to test APKWS in the air.

In July, the team successfully performed a final round of integration test shots with the A-10 and F-16 platforms, overseeing seven aircraft missions with 14 successful A-10 and F-16 test shots. Missions included minimum and maximum range, ripple release and trajectory shaping tests against a variety of realistic targets – all validating the program’s capability.

The team solicited the support of the Arizona Air National Guard Air Reserve Test Center to work with the 96th TW community on these tests.

“The APKWS program is a true testament of outstanding team work across multiple services and organizations,” said Moreno. “We successfully fielded an initial capability to the warfighter that enabled enemy target engagement in combat with no collateral damage within 11 days of deploying the system.”

A significant advantage APKWS brings to the fight is an increase weapons loadout for both the A-10 and F-16. This close-air-support capability is a game-changer for warfighters, allowing them to engage several more targets where collateral damage is a concern, according to Moreno.  

“APKWS is a great example of what the acquisition enterprise and Team Eglin is capable of,” said Morris. “We showcased our ability to rapidly test, integrate, deploy and use the system in combat within six months of congressional approval.”

The team has moved forward and is now engaged in integrating another rotary-wing Hydra 70 system, the M282 Multi-Purpose Penetrator. When integrated with APKWS, the warhead will allow the warfighter to engage and destroy fixed and moving light armor vehicles in addition to expanding options to engage different target sets across the battlefield.

Recent ground-to-ground testing of the integrated M282 successfully showcased its desired capability. The team plans to start tests on the A-10 and F-16 platforms later this fall and deliver a limited capability to the warfighter early next year, according to Moreno.

“Team Eglin is committed to quickly and safely delivering critical systems to the warfighter,” said Morris. “APKWS is just the latest example in a long tradition of excellence the enterprise represents.”