The U.S. Navy has placed a big order for laser guided rockets made by BAE Systems.
The sea service this week announced a potentially $600 million contract with the U.S. subsidiary of the British aerospace giant for the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, or APKWS, according to announcements from the company and the Defense Department.
The deal, which initially totals $130 million over three years, came a couple of years after the Navy started testing the so-called "smart" rocket launchers aboard MH-60R/S Seahawk and MH-60S Knighthawk helicopters.
Each of the launchers is capable of firing 19 laser guided rockets -- almost triple the capacity of current seven-tube launchers found on AH-1 Cobras and UH-1 Hueys. The technology isn't limited to rotorcraft. Indeed, the Air Force earlier this year equipped F-16 fighter jets and A-10 ground-attack aircraft with APKWS.
The rocket is actually a kit that converts unguided rockets such as the 2.75-inch Hydra into “smart” laser-seeking missiles 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.
The agreement is designed to "speed the delivery" of the laser guided rockets to not only the Navy, but also the Marine Corps, Army, Air Force -- and allied nations, according to a press release from the company.
"This latest contract includes valuable provisions that allow other services and allies to leverage this small guided munition program of record," David Harrold, director of precision guidance solutions at BAE Systems, said in the release.
"The large demand for this cost-effective technology is a testament to its highly innovative design, and this contract will allow us to greatly increase production," he added.