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Small UAVs almost ready to carry new class of guided weapons

Small unmanned air vehicles are being equipped by the US military to designate targets with a homing laser, but still lack a guided weapon small enough to launch an attack themselves.

Two options to solve this problem appeared at the convention of the Army Aviation Association of America.

Raytheon Systems marketed a self-funded small tactical munition (STM) with a newly redesigned warhead. Alliant Techsystems (ATK) displayed a full-scale model of a new munition funded by the US Air Force Research Laboratory called the Hatchet.

Little information was immediately available about the latter. An image in ATK's exhibit booth displayed multiple Hatchets descending on a mobile surface-to-air missile launcher.

Both munitions appear to be designed to exploit an untapped market for guided munitions on Class 3 UAVs, such as the army and Marine Corps' AAI RQ-7 Shadow.

The challenge is to design a guided bomb in the 4.54-6.8kg (10-15lb) class that is lethal enough to be effective, as well as cheap enough to be produced and used in mass quantities.

After testing an STM last year using an off-the-shelf warhead, Raytheon decided it needed greater punch. The company plans to start flight tests on an STM with a new warhead in the third quarter, says Cody Tretschok, the company's capture manager.

Raytheon has set a price target somewhere between the roughly $5,000 goal of a guided rocket and the army's $100,000 objective for the nearly 49kg joint air-to-ground munition.

So far, military officials have not established a requirement for such a weapon, and many considerations still remain. There is no interface on the RQ-7 for the UAV to communicate the target's position to the guided weapon, nor is there a bomb-rack to carry one, Tretschock says.

To see an image of the Hatchet munition, visit Stephen Trimble's The DEW Line blog
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