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US special forces seek tube-launched glide bombs

The US air force has expressed interest in rapidly acquiring lightweight glide bombs capable of striking fast-moving targets from the common launch tubes of special operations aircraft.

The service specifically wants tube-launched weapons with GPS/INS and semi-active-laser guidance that can hit vehicles travelling at 120km/h (70mph) from an altitude of 10,000ft and above. Those specifications come from a market survey released on 20 November by the air force’s rapid acquisition cell at Eglin AFB in Florida, which is seeking information on ready-made munitions for combat deployment by April 2017.

According to the notice, the munitions are requested by US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) for various fixed and rotary-wing special operations aircraft that use the same integrated common launch tubes and battle management system installed on the AC-130W “Stinger II” gunship.

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The special forces-operated "Stinger II" gunship is equipped to launch small, precision-guided munitions.

US Air Force

Once deployed, the candidate glide weapon must lock onto its coordinates or laser-illuminated target – fixed or manoeuvring – from any direction and strike it with an accuracy of within 5m, or 1m with laser guidance, the notice states.

If a procurement effort results from the market research, production could start almost immediately. “Initial production deliveries are required by August 2016 to support munition performance characterization, tactics, techniques, and procedures generation, and unit training,” according to the notice.

One candidate that comes to mind is Textron Systems’ 26kg (50lb) G-CLAW unitary area munition which has been designed specifically for deployment from SOCOM-standard launch tubes. The weapon has been flight tested from a tube-carrying Cessna Caravan, and is also aimed at the Beechcraft AT-6 “Wolverine”, Textron AirLand Scorpion, and large unmanned platforms.

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G-CLAW

Textron Systems

The special forces community is constantly on the hunt for precision-guided munitions that cost less and can be purchased in greater quantities than traditional Lockheed Martin Hellfire and Raytheon Griffin weapons for regular counter-terrorism operations against people and non-armoured vehicles.

Air Force Special Operations Command has also expressed interest in disposable, tube-launched UAVs for low-flying surveillance and target acquisition from an AC-130 gunship.

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