A rocket design first employed in the 1940’s as an aerial launched weapon has been adapted to engage unmanned aerial drones achieving an exceptional success rate as high as 100 percent.
The 2.75-inch or Hydra 70mm unguided rocket when converted with BAE Systems’ APKWS laser guidance kit turn it into precision-guided munition. The APKWS (Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System) is a Distributed Aperture Semi-Active Laser Seeker that is added to the mid-body of the rocket body allowing use of the standard warhead and fuse. With APKWS the target is “painted” by a laser-designator which the rocket seeker then homes-in on effectively striking with a demonstrated accuracy of greater than .5 meters.
Originally intended to provide a high precision engagement capability for helicopters and aircraft ground vehicle launch systems for the Hydra 70 have been introduced taking advantage of its lightweight and recoilless firing.
In June 2021 BAE Systems tested the Hydra 70 APKWS against an unmanned aerial system. Equipped with a proximity fuse warhead, the rocket successfully destroyed the Class 2 drone. Subsequent field firing tests have verified the systems capability to engage and neutralize both Class 2 and Class 3 UAS.
It further has the advantage of providing lock-on after launch and the ability to engage a target up to 5,000 meters distant in the current version (Nammo is developing a new rocket motor that could extend this to 12-15 km). Of particular combat value is that these systems retain the capability to effectively engage ground targets as well as drone treats.
A new fuse demonstrated in March 2023 further enhances this multi-purpose capability. A major plus is at US$30,000 the Hydra 70 APKWS is significantly less cost than other air-defence missiles. In fact, this rocket offers both helicopters and ground units with a readily available counter-drone capability.
The Hydra 70 APKWS has been configured as a stand-alone weapon system integrating a multi-rocket launcher, a stabilized electro-optic package with colour and thermal cameras and laser designator which can be installed on a vehicle.
L3Harris’s VAMPIRE is modular and designed to fit in any tactical or non-tactical vehicles with a flat mounting area. It has been even demonstrated in commercial pick-up bed. Fourteen VAMPIREs were purchased by the US Government to be delivered to Ukraine in 2023.
Another is the EAGLS C-UAS system by MSI Defense Solutions that features remote weapon station, MHR radar, electro-optical sensor, and a 70mm laser rocket launcher.
Invariant Corporation and HDT Global demonstrated a Containerized Weapon System (CWS) using the Arnold Defense LAND-LGR4 four-round 70mm rocket launcher mounted on a modified Commonly Remotely Operated Weapon Station II (CROWS II) which included a laser designator. Mounted in a container the system is elevated for operation and has mast mounted sensors. Already employed by the US Army armed with guns this new version can also provide C-UAS capability.
SAIC has also taken advantage of the Hydra 70 APKWS in its CUAS system which also incorporates a remote M240 machinegun and electronic warfare system. Reportedly the Invariant and SAIC solutions have been selected for deployment to Ukraine.
by Stephen W. Miller