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MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH) is the world's leading international tri-service defence monthly magazine in the English language. MILITARY TECHNOLOGY is "Required Reading for Defence Professionals". Follow us on Twitter: MILTECH1

05 May 2015

AUVSI 2015: Miniaturised Weapon Delivery - Small Precision Guided Munitions (PGM)

Considered an emerging technology some years ago, small precision guided munitions (PGM) can now be found in abundance. These miniature PGMs are not only available for MALE UAS but are also increasingly being integrated with smaller, tactical UAVs. In addition, UAS will likely be configured to carry air droppable unattended ground sensors.

Thales FF LMM, called FURY by Textron in the US on Exelis BRU-55/A Smart Rack. (Photo: Pieter Bastiaans) 

Amongst the first guided munitions that were considered for use on UAVs were 2.75in (70mm) guided rockets. Utilising the HYDRA rocket system, Lockheed Martin’s DAGR and Raytheon’s TALON are being looked at for integration with rotary wing platforms that are still mostly manned. However, BAE Systems’ APKWS is also destined to be integrated on Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8C FIRE SCOUT once at sea testing with the smaller MQ-8B has proved successful.

Also being used on the USMC’s KC-130J HARVEST HAWK, Raytheon AGM-176 GRIFFIN missiles and MBDA GBU-44/B VIPER-E glide munitions, both using GPS/INS for mid-course navigation and SAL for terminal guidance, are available for integration on UAVs. Like the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 HELLFIRE family and MBDA’s BRIMSTONE dual mode munition, GRIFFIN is now being eyed for the MQ-9 as well as the MQ-1. Formerly known as VIPER STRIKE, VIPER-E has been mounted on the US Army’s MQ-5B HUNTER UAV. As early as 2004, the IAI’s Laser Homing Attack Missile (LAHAT) was also proposed for testing with HUNTER. As GRIFFIN small guided munition is already available as an upgrade for manned rotary wing platforms, it is likely that it will also soon be integrated with unmanned VTOL solutions. Equipped with a tri-mode seeker, Raytheon’s new GBU-53/B SDB II is designed to provide an increased weapons load-out for fighter aircraft as well as MQ-9 UAS. Textron’s G-CLAW is a guided 50/75 pounds glide munition that is launched from a common launch tube system that can be integrated on large UAVs.

Ammo for RQ-7

Another weapon from MBDA, the Small Air Bomb Extended Range (SABER) is currently under development. Featuring SAL terminal guidance, the SABER will provide 10 or 30lb rocket or glide capability that could be integrated on the AAI RQ-7B TUAS of the US Army and USMC. Fitted with an operator selectable fuze, the diamond back winged weapon might also be integrated with a TV/IR sensor together with a datalink. Also aimed at the RQ-7, Lockheed Martin has developed its own SAL guided PGM, the SHADOW HAWK glide weapon. Lockheed Martin indicates that SHADOW HAWK also provides off-axis targeting capability. Meanwhile, Raytheon has the PYROS small tactical munition (STM), which is its smallest air launched bomb, weighing 12 pounds. The multi-effects warhead has three fuzing options: Height-of-burst, point-of-imapct or fuze-delay detonation. Orbital ATK’s laser guided HATCHET is also meant for the RQ-7 and so is Textron’s FURY. Tested from a SHADOW in 2014, FURY is the US designation for Thales’ Free Fall Lightweight Modular missile (FF-LMM). Meanwhile, GDOTS has been looking into modifying 81mm mortar rounds into PGMs by adding a small clip-on Roll Controlled Fixed Canard fuze and GPS guidance kit. Originally designed as a man portable weapon for USMC and US Navy SOF, DRS Technologies’ SPIKE lightweight laser guided weapon is also compatible with the SHADOW UAV, weighing a mere 5.3 pounds.

Loitering Munitions

Also designed for aerial launch, AeroVironment’s SWITCHBLADE loitering munition could gather ISR information on BLOS targets for TUAS. At the same time, it could also engage fleeting targets with a minimum of collateral damage acting as a Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System (LMAMS). SWITCHBLADE is already in use with the US Army as a man portable, tube launched system, while Textron is offering the BATTLEHAWK munition that has triple the endurance of SWITCHBLADE, 30 minutes. Larger ground launched loitering munitions include IAI’s HARPY and HAROP (or HARPY 2), as well as Uvision’s BLADE ARROW precision attack munition (PAM). The HAROP has six hours endurance although IAI is contemplating developing a smaller variant with an endurance of two to three hours. BLADE ARROW is said to have an endurance of up to seven hours. Some years ago, Rheinmetall worked on a Tactical Advanced Reconnaissance Strike System based on its TAIFUN anti-armour UAV. TAIFUN itself was a derivative of the KZO target acquisition UAV that is in use with the German Army today. MBDA currently offers the FIRE SHADOW indirect fire precision attack capability that weighs less than 200kg and is in production for the British Army. Fitted with a two way datalink, the system can loiter for up to six hours.

Meanwhile, non western countries are also pursuing armed UAS. Chinese tactical and MALE UAVs, such as the CASC CH-3 and CH-4, Xi’an ASN Technology ASN-209 and AVIC WINGLOONG all appear to be capable of being armed with small guided munitions. Photographs of a CH-3 UAV that recently crashed in Nigeria apparently show an AR-1 laser guided missile and FT-5 small guided bomb hung attached under the aircraft.
Pieter Bastiaans

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