BAE Systems has been cleared to deliver a new guided weapon that will enter service next year on US Marine Corps helicopters and later possibly with fixed-wing aircraft.

Test shots of the advanced precision kill weapon system (APKWS) II from a Bell Helicopter UH-1Y Venom struck targets ranging from 1.5km to 5km (0.8nm to 3nm) away, the UK-headquartered defence giant said.

The completion of the test shots means the system's development and demonstration phase is nearing an end, after a long and unusually circuitous path.

UH-1Y advanced precision kill weapon system (APKWS

 © BAE Systems

The Marines plan to deploy the weapon - a 70mm (2.75in) rocket modified with a semi-active laser guidance system and an upgraded warhead - in combat zones starting next year.

The guided rocket will complement a digital close air support system integrated into the cockpits of the service's UH-1Y and Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter, giving pilots a precise weapon with a smaller blast radius than a Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missile.

The APKWS II also will be integrated by the US Navy on the Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. The aircraft will receive software modifications, including a weapons management computer to use the rockets, with the first armed example to be ready in March 2013.

But the next step - to migrate the new weapon to fighters - is already being considered. Earlier this year, the Marines and the US Air Force teamed up to demonstrate APKWS II on the Boeing AV-8B Harrier II and the Fairchild Republic A-10C Thunderbolt II ground attack aircraft.

These developments are a departure from the programme's situation in 2008, when it had been abandoned for a second time by the US Army.

The Marines decided to take over the APKWS II contract and complete the development phase. The army, meanwhile, considered the APKWS II for a second time in late-2009, along with several competitors, but still has not purchased a guided rocket.

Source: Flight International