Raytheon's (stand E320) first experiment with funding and developing a new weapon system entirely through a Middle East commercial partner is close to entering a critical stage of flight tests.

Raytheon's laser guided rocket, funded and co-developed by United Arab Emirates-based EAI, has been fired in ground tests staged in New Mexico and the UAE.

Raytheon is close to firing the guided version of the Hydra 70mm (2.75in) rocket from an aerial platform, such as the US Army OH-58D Kiowa Warrior.

The flight tests precede the programme's scheduled delivery date in the 2010. Raytheon and EAI are in price negotiations for the production contract. The plan calls for Raytheon to deliver the guided rockets to EAI, which will forward the systems to the UAE Land Forces Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow.

The programme's business model represents a first for Raytheon. The US-based contractor traditionally finances new weapons systems mostly with US government funding, although it also contributes some internal funding to new development projects.

In this case, Raytheon did not have a choice. In 2007, the US Army rejected Raytheon's bid for the advanced precision kill weapon system (APKWS) II contract.

One year later, Raytheon announced that it was teaming up with EAI. In return, the UAE investment company obtains a manufacturing data package, allowing the UAE to build its own guided rockets for the AH-64.

Meanwhile, Raytheon can offer an fully certified weapon system to the army after mid-2010. The army has already backed out of the APKWS II contract, transferring the BAE Systems programme to the US Marine Corps. There are signs that US army officials may be taking a new interest in Raytheon's guided rocket alternative to APKWS II.

Raytheon's new weapon has been selected to be fired by US Army OH-58Ds during an exercise scheduled in December.

The army also has the option of buying the Lockheed Martin direct attack guided rocket (DAGR), another concept that lost to BAE in the APKWS II competition.

Source: Flight Daily News