In Iraq and Syria, U.S. Aircraft Rely on a New Kind of Rocket
Growing demand for laser-guided Hydras
The Pentagon is fast-tracking new orders of laser-guided precision rockets needed to attack Islamic State as U.S. aircraft maintain an extremely high tempo of offensive operations in Iraq and Syria.
A-10 Warthog attack planes, and other aircraft, have been attacking Islamic State fighters with Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System rockets—laser-guided Hydra 70 2.75-inch rockets fired from helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. The weapon, first developed more than a decade ago, attaches a guidance section to unguided rockets, giving them the ability to pinpoint targets on the move with laser precision.
In response to the fast-growing demand for weapons to attack Islamic State, the U.S. Navy has awarded BAE Systems a $180.5 million contract to continue producing the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System. The Navy deal is part of a broader effort to, in many instances, arm U.S. allies with APKWS.
“We’re delivering ahead of schedule even with the growing demand,” Rachel Guill, director of Precision Guidance Solutions at BAE Systems, said in a written statement.
U.S. Air Force weapons loaders say the current rotation of attacks against Islamic State, from this past January forward, has generated fast-growing demand for more APKWS rockets.
“This rotation has been the busiest op-tempo of weapons expenditures and sortie hours. We are tracking right now about 2,700 bombs dropped since we have been here in January,” SMSgt. Chris Cochran, 447 Munitions Fight Chief, stated in a Pentagon report.
Many of the U.S. APKWS weapons are stacked, assembled and loaded at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, before flying aboard coalition warplanes into Iraq and Syria.
Consisting of a rocket motor, seeker, warhead and fuze, APKWS rockets can attack targets at ranges up to three miles, according to manufacturer BAE Systems. BAE developers also report that the weapon has a 90-percent probability of hitting a target within two meters per single shot.
Upon launching strikes, wing-mounted seeker optics receive the reflected laser energy from the target, BAE officials explained.
Unlike 100-pound, tank-killing Hellfire missiles, APKWS rockets are well suited to attack smaller targets, such as groups of I.S. fighters. It is well documented that Islamic State often deliberately blends in with civilians to thwart U.S. and coalition attacks. Such a phenomenon underscores the merits of smaller, precision weaponry which can isolate enemy targets while avoiding damage to nearby civilians or surrounding infrastructure.
More than 5,000 APKWS rockets were produced by 2015. Over the years, the weapon has been fired from AH-64 Apaches, V-22 Ospreys, Navy Fire Scout drones, Marine Corps UH-1Ys, A-10s, MH-60s Navy helicopters and Air Force F-16s, among others.
The Marine Corps is now advancing requirements to arm its fleet of Osprey helicopters with new weapons, including the possibility of APKWS.