FARNBOROUGH, England -- The U.S. subsidiary of British defense giant BAE Systems Plc is confident the Army will begin buying its kits to convert unguided rockets on helicopters into "smart" heat-seeking missiles, a company official said.
The so-called Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, or APKWS, converts a 2.75-inch Hydra rocket into a "smart" munition by adding a semi-active laser guidance and control mid-section.
It's a low-cost option for precision strike, costing some $30,000 apiece — roughly a third of the price tag of an AGM-114 Hellfire missile made by Lockheed Martin Corp., according to David Harrold, director of precision guidance solutions and electronic systems at BAE Systems Inc. While not as powerful as the Hellfire, the system is effective at soft, light targets such as wheeled vehicles and small boats.
"We developed APKWS to fill that gap," he said during a briefing on Thursday here at the Farnborough International Air Show.
The system is one of several competing products targeting the global market for upgrades to the 70mm rocket. There are hundreds of thousands of the munitions in military inventories around the world.
Other products include the Direct Attack Guided Rocket, or DAGR, made by Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed; the Cirit made by the Turkish missile-maker Roketsan and the Talon developed jointly by Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon and United Arab Emirates-based Emirates Advanced Investments, or EAI.
BAE a few months ago announced its first international sale of the product, a $5.5 million deal with the kingdom of Jordan to arm a pair of Casa CN-235 gunships with the guided munitions.
The company has already delivered more than 3,000 of the kits to the U.S. military. In 2012, the Marine Corps deployed the weapon to Afghanistan on AH-1 Cobra and UH-1 Huey helicopters. The company has already certified the technology on the Army's AH-64 Apache chopper and expects the service to begin buying the system fiscal 2015.
"We're really looking forward to bringing it to the Army," Harrold said. "I'm feeling pretty bullish about the Army buying some APKWS in 2015."
The Army's lead office for missiles and space has already expressed a need for the technology and the service's budget request for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 references it, he said. The request includes a $27 million line item for 741 Hydra rockets and other components, including about $4 million for 66 guidance sections, according to budget documents.
The Navy this year began testing the system in new 19-tube digital rocket launches aboard MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopters. The launcher is almost triple the capacity of seven-tube launches on Cobras and Hueys.
"You can imagine just the game-changer that is," Harrold said.
U.S. Central Command last year test-fired the system on fixed-wing aircraft, including the A-10 Warthog gunship, the F-16 fighter jet and the AV-8B Harrier jump-jet, he said. While the system's performance varies depending on the type of platform, it has a range of between 1.5 kilometers and 5 kilometers, with an optimal range of 3 kilometers, he said.
Overall, the company has fired the guided rocket off more than a dozen aircraft, both fixed and rotary wing, even the MQ-8 Fire Scout helicopter drone, Harrold said. It has tested the weapon on the ground, and could adapted for use on ground vehicles, too, such as the Stryker armored personnel carrier, he said.
"This is a very easy system to integrate onto any platform that already fires the Hydra 70," Harrold said. "That's why it's been relatively painless to go this path of multiple platforms."