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Guided rockets set to arm US A-10s and Harriers

Precision-guided rockets could be added to the weapons load-out of the US Air Force's Fairchild A-10 and the US Marine Corps' Boeing AV-8B Harrier II strike aircraft under a proposal led by the US Navy.

The USN soon plans to launch a joint concept technology demonstration to add a BAE Systems guided rocket called the advanced precision kill weapon system (APKWS II) to both aircraft.

Plans for the demonstration were revealed in a navy acquisition notice posted on 4 January. This says that the service intends to buy 50 guided rockets from the APKWS II programme for use by the AV-8B and A-10.

Both aircraft types are often called on to support ground troops that are in close combat. In such tight spaces, the smallest and most precise weapon with enough lethal power is preferred.

The APKWS II munition, like the unguided Hydra 70mm (2.75in) rocket, is considered a safer alternative to the more powerful Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire or Raytheon AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles. However, the unguided type tends to be less accurate.

The AV-8B is equipped to carry Hydra rockets, but not the APKWS II design. The demonstration represents the A-10's first experience of using a guided rocket.

It is not clear from the acquisition notice how the A-10 became involved in the USN-led demonstration, but either the US Air Force or Air National Guard must also be participating in the joint concept technology demonstration process.

The APKWS II programme has had a difficult past. The USMC assumed control of the programme after the US Army abandoned the technology. It had also previously terminated its original APKWS contract with a General Dynamics/BAE team.

BAE is shooting the APKWS II in the last series of test firings to support a decision by the USMC to enter low-rate initial production.

The losing bidders from the APKWS II contest are also continuing to develop their respective technologies. Lockheed has developed the direct attack guided rocket, while the United Arab Emirates has funded development of a Raytheon alternative. Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and Elbit Systems have also teamed to offer their guided advanced tactical rocket.

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