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Laser Guided Hydra Nears Production

The long and often halting development of the Advanced Precision-Kill Weapon System (APKWS), a laser guided version of the Hydra 2.75-inch rocket, appears to finally be reaching an end and production could, possibly, begin this year.

In early January, Marine AH-1W Cobra helicopters fired the precision rocket at a variety of targets and scored direct hits on all eight shots, said APKWS II builder BAE Systems in a press release this week.

APKWS was to provide a lighter, cheaper and more versatile laser guided missile alternative to the larger and more costly Hellfire and TOW missile families; a precision missile with a small warhead to limit collateral damage that could be fired from a range of aircraft including helicopters, drones and jets.

The Army was originally interested in APKWS and Raytheon, BAE and Lockheed Martin were all competing for the contract. While BAE’s Hyrda rocket won, the Army zeroed funding for it in 2008. The story would have ended there, but for the Navy, that stepped in and took over APKWS development funding that same year. The ever economical Marines took a liking to the simple but effective rocket. Further environmental tests on the rocket are to be carried out in the next few weeks and a production decision is expected within the next couple of months.

BAE’s press release contains the standard promotional quote from an operator, Marine Corps Maj. Matt Sale, who said: “We are confident that APKWS is the right-size weapon for many of our typical engagements and will be highly effective in allowing Marine aviators to prosecute targets."

The Navy/Marines are also building new warheads for the APKWS including a Multi Purpose Penetrator in response to an urgent request from Afghanistan for a small warhead able to penetrate buildings and an even smaller, around 10lb., warhead, so pilots can engage targets at “danger close” range to ground troops.

Navy budget documents say the service plans to spend $114 million this year to buy 818 of the rockets/missiles, new warheads, guidance kits and launchers.

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