Thales reveals new lightweight missile for UAVs, helicopters

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Thales UK is developing a new lightweight multirole missile (LMM) it says will offer a low-cost precision-guided strike capability for helicopters and unmanned air vehicles.

To be unveiled in London on 2 June and using elements from the company's Starstreak ground-based air defence missile, the new air-launched weapon has already been flown with Scheibel's S-100 Camcopter unmanned helicopter, which can carry two of the 13kg (28lb) LMM rounds.

Test firings have already been performed from a suspended Camcopter without disrupting the handling characteristics of the 200kg (440lb) vehicle, says Steve Hill, managing director of Belfast-based Thales Air Systems.

 
© Thales UK

Work on the LMM concept was launched in January 2007, and first flight tests were performed last December. "We have not tried to build something that's a tank killer, but we think it will have great utility against a wide range of targets," says Hill, who adds that around £2 million ($3.95 million) of company money has been set aside for the project.

Thales will also offer the up to 8km-range (4.3nm) LMM as a weapon for manned rotorcraft such as the Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopter and AgustaWestland's Future Lynx, with the design considered a potential solution for the Royal Navy's future anti-surface guided weapon (light) requirement. "We are getting some very positive feedback," says Hill.

Powered by a Roxel two-stage solid propellant motor and to carry a 3kg blast/fragmentation warhead, the LMM is planned to have a unit cost of just 50-60% that of a Starstreak missile.

 
© Thales UK

Guidance will initially be provided using a laser seeker, with three of the weapon's forward wings having independent steering. However, Thales plans to later integrate a low-cost semi-active laser being developed within the company, or possibly introduce an INS/GPS terminal homing capability.

A second phase of flight trials will be conducted in late 2009 or early 2010, according to Hill, who says production systems could be available in 2011.

The LMM could also have air defence applications for naval vessels and ground vehicles, but Thales has so far made no effort to promote the design for possible use by counterinsurgency aircraft.