The U.S. Air Force has for the first time armed combat aircraft with a new laser-guided rocket made by BAE Systems for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the company announced.
The service has equipped its F-16 fighter jets and A-10 ground-attack aircraft with the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, according to a press release this week from the British defense giant.
The rocket is actually a mid-body guidance kit that converts unguided rockets into "smart" laser-seeking missiles, according to BAE. The system converts a 2.75-inch Hydra rocket into a guided 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. While not as powerful as the Hellfire, the system is effective at soft, light targets such as wheeled vehicles and small boats.
The Marine Corps recently fielded the system on its AV-8B Harrier jump jet, the Army has deployed it on its Apache AH-64 helicopter gunships and the Navy has also used the technology on its aircraft, according to the company.
"The APKWS rocket's innovative 'plug and play' design makes it possible to deploy these systems on a variety of platforms," David Harrold, director of precision guidance solutions at BAE Systems, said in the release.
The fielding exceeded the Air Force's scheduled timeline, Brig. Gen. Shaun Morris, program executive officer for Weapons, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, said in the release.
Like the Army, the Air Force is acquiring its initial supply of rockets from the Navy's inventory and is in negotiations to secure more units to meet ongoing demands, according to BAE.