US Counter-Drone Office successfully tests BAE Systems APKWS laser guidance kits

On March 28, BAE Systems announced the Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office (JCO) has successfully tested its APKWS laser-guidance kits in a counter-unmanned aircraft systems (C-UAS) mission. The testing against Class-2 UAS paves the way for the fielding of precision-guided rockets to partner nations around the globe.
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APKWS laser-guidance kits have been successfully tested against drones (Picture source: BAE Systems)

APKWS transforms unguided rockets into smart munitions for precision strikes on soft and lightly armored targets. A newly developed proximity fuze for the standard M151 warhead allows the laser guidance kits to target Class 2 and Class 3 drones, which typically weigh less than 55 pounds. The fuze retains the legacy point denotation capability for maximum flexibility of the weapon in the field. APKWS now enables rockets to engage and destroy drones at a fraction of the cost of existing C-UAS systems with unprecedented precision.

During the Department of Defense-led exercise at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, the 70 mm APKWS-guided rockets demonstrated 100 percent effectiveness when fired against 25 to 50-pound drones traveling at more than 100 miles an hour. The APKWS C-UAS solution is platform agnostic, permitting multiple options to accelerate fielding.

“Our engineers’ passion for APKWS technology led to the development of this new product designed to meet drones head-on,” said Aimee D’Onofrio, a director of Precision Guidance and Sensing Solutions at BAE Systems. “This is a solution that comes at a remarkably affordable price point, and with APKWS already at full-rate production, we can ramp up to 25,000 units per year to make an immediate impact.”

APKWS laser guidance kits are produced at BAE Systems’ state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Hudson, New Hampshire. The kits are available to all U.S. armed forces, as well as allies via Foreign Military Sales.

The U.S. Government’s only program of record for 2.75”/70mm guided rockets, our APKWS guidance kit transforms unguided 2.75-inch (70 millimeters) rockets like the Hydra 70 Mk 66 and others into precision-guided munitions (PGMs). Qualified on numerous U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) platforms, APKWS laser guidance kits provide an affordable surgical-strike capability to multiple rotary-wing and fixed-wing platforms. Development, testing, and demonstrations are underway for unmanned (UAS) aircraft, as well as ground-based platforms.

The APKWS system bridges the gap between unguided rockets and larger anti-armor munitions with commonality across the U.S. military services – Navy, Marine Corps, Army, and Air Force

With the category’s highest combat-proven hit rate, APKWS guidance kit equipped rocket consistently hit their intended target with pinpoint accuracy while limiting collateral damage. The guidance section is designed to lock onto targets from over 6 kilometers away, supporting survivability and mission success by keeping your launch platform at a safe standoff distance from threats. A recent Single Variant Block Upgrade optimized flight trajectory so the rocket can hit targets at a steeper angle of attack for enhanced lethality.

Innovative by design, the APKWS kit includes advanced Distributed Aperture Semi-Active Laser Seeker (DASALS) optics located on all four guidance wings, which are protected by wing-slot seals prior to firing, avoiding adjacent fire damage that can interfere with a nose mount seeker. Once the rocket is fired, the APKWS kit’s wings deploy and the optics lock on to designated targets, guiding the rocket to the target – delivering accurate strikes and minimizing collateral damage when and where it matters most.

* Wing slot seals protect optics from adjacent firings, sand, and moisture prior to launch to ensure no damage or debris inhibit the seeker from locking onto targets.
* Optics lock on to moving or stationary targets in open or confined areas, supporting a wide variety of missions, and reducing any chance of a lost or uncontrolled rocket after launch.
* 40-degree instantaneous field of regard enables a broad capture area for the rocket to adjust mid-flight and stay on track to its target.

First put into production in 2008, the APKWS laser guidance kit proved to be one of the most accurate, effective, and easy-to-implement systems in the world for converting unguided rockets into laser-guided rockets (LGR). With our continued development, the system is undergoing live fire testing from a range of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs). Today’s system has also proven itself capable in air-to-air targeting of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and low-flying cruise missiles – as part of a counter-unmanned aerial system (C-UAS) – as well as in ground-to-ground lethality fired from launchers mounted on vehicles and remote weapon stations.

Mission and platform flexibility, as well as its lightweight and low cost of integration, makes the APKWS system one of the most highly capable and useful combat weapons available to every department of the U.S. DoD and to U.S. allies. In fact, since its introduction, over 50,000 APKWS units have been sold for service worldwide.

With most of BAE Systems' supply chain in the United States, its centralized approach, and focus on delivering zero defects, the company is optimizing overall production and delivery efficiency, which shows in its:
* Over 6 years in full-rate production.
* More than 50,000 units delivered to date
* Proven ability to surge capacity, accelerating the delivery of over a thousand units ahead of schedule.

Defense News March 2023