F-16 Shoots Down Drone in Test for New Cruise Missile Defense

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A F-16C flown by Maj Jeffrey Entine, 85th Flight Test Squadron test pilot, prepares to fire a rocket at a test drone at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Dec. 19, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. John Raven)
A F-16C flown by Maj Jeffrey Entine, 85th Flight Test Squadron test pilot, prepares to fire a rocket at a test drone at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Dec. 19, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. John Raven)

An F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet has taken out a drone using an AGR-20A Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) laser-guided rocket in a first-of-its-kind test. The weapon could prove to be an alternative for cruise missile defense, according to the Air Force's 53rd Wing.

The 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron shot down a BQM-167 subscale drone over Eglin Air Force Base's Gulf of Mexico water range on Dec. 19, said 1st Lt. Savanah Bray, a spokeswoman for the 53rd.

The F-16, capable of carrying 14 APKWS munitions, used just one precision-guided rocket for the test, resulting in a direct hit, Bray told Military.com on Monday.

The test showed that using the smaller, 2.75-inch rocket queued from an F-16 targeting pod is a viable munitions alternative to platforms that perform cruise missile defense, such as the pricier AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM, officials said.

Related: Trump's Missile Defense Review Calls for Space Sensors, Drone Lasers

"The test was unprecedented and will shape the future of how the Air Force executes [cruise missile defense]," said Col. Ryan Messer, commander of the 53rd Wing, in the release. "This is a prime example of how the 53d Wing is using resources readily available to establish innovative ways that enhance combat capabilities for our combat units."

BQM-167s, housed at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, are used as aerial targets.

The APKWS, originally developed "as a low cost, low collateral damage air-to-ground weapon for use in Afghanistan and Iraq," according to the service, is much less expensive than an AMRAAM, which "is commonly used for cruise missile defense," the release states.

The BAE Systems-made APKWS costs about $30,000 while the AIM-120 ranges between $600,000 and $850,000, depending on the variant, Bray said. Because of their size, an aircraft can load "two-to-three times the number" of APKWS versus the maximum of six AMRAAMs an F-16 can carry dependent on weapon configuration, the release adds.

Bray said finding a cheaper alternative was a top priority that came out of the January 2019 Weapons and Tactics Conference (WEPTAC).

"This proof of concept can have implications for homeland defense missions, combined defense of the Arabian Gulf, and beyond," Messer said. "I am exceptionally proud of the efforts of the 85th TES and the units across the 53d Wing that made this possible."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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