Textron Defense Systems is awaiting the outcome of a United Nations meeting on the Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Treaty nextweek to assess potential market implications for its Sensor Fused Weapon (SFW).
The only area weapon in the US inventory that meets the Department of Defense's goal of delivering a submunition destruction rate of over 99%, the SFW was in combat use in the opening weeks of Operation "Iraqi Freedom" in 2003 when the US Air Force dropped around 100.
Carried by types including the Boeing B-1B and Lockheed Martin F-16, the 453kg (1,000lb)-class SFW deploys 10 submunitions, each of which contains four individual "skeet" warheads. These use a passive infrared array, an active laser sensor and a timeout feature to deliver a "dud rate" of below 1%. Each SFW can destroy multiple vehicles over an area greater than 121,000m² (1.3 million ft²) in one pass, its manufacturer says.
Some 5,000 SFWs have been delivered to the USAF, and the system has been sold to Oman, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. India also requested a purchase of 510 weapons late last year. Textron's senior vice-president, business development Bob Buckley expects this order to be confirmed by early 2010, and says the company is "within days" of confirming another new export sale. If confirmed, these orders will extend its production backlog out to almost five years, he says.
Textron has approvals to export the SFW to around 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, eastern Europe and the Middle East. However, western Europe has effectively been closed as a potential market since the May 2008 Oslo Treaty, which outlaws the use of area weapons containing 10 or more submunitions, and all those weighing less than 4kg each.
A new UN agreement to implement a protocol allowing the use of submunitions with a failure rate of less than 1% would remove this obstacle and significantly boost the SFW's sales potential.
A draft version of a possible agreement will be considered in the forthcoming meeting, and Buckley hopes that the CCW could reach a positive decision on the matter during a full meeting scheduled during November. "It's made a lot of progress," he says, but notes that a decision could alternatively be taken to fully adopt the terms of the Oslo Treaty.
Only around 14 states have so far ratified the Oslo Treaty, and the USA is allowing another decade to achieve its 99% objective.
"Washington has up to 2018 to fully implement, but it's unlikely that any US commander will drop any of these [old area weapons] again," says Buckley. "Older systems with contact fuzes are significantly unreliable."