Raytheon Systems has completed a test drop of its 226kg (500lb) Paveway IV precision-guided bomb from a Panavia Tornado GR4, ahead of UK forces' deployment of the aircraft type in Afghanistan.
According to the company, the bomb was "successfully dropped" from a Tornado at Aberporth, Wales on 6 February, providing "necessary evidence" for the UK Ministry of Defence to conduct trials at the China Lake weapons test facility in California.
The first drop of a Paveway IV in combat was executed in November, as part of a UK Joint Force Harrier operation in Afghanistan involving the Royal Air Force's 4 Sqn and 1 Sqn and the Royal Navy's Naval Strike Wing. BAE Systems Harrier GR9 strike aircraft served as the platform for the Paveway IV's deployment, characterised as "extremely successful" by Royal Navy Cdr Kevin Seymour.
The number of Paveway IV bombs dropped in Afghanistan has since risen to 12, according to Seymour. Two of the bombs were "physically slewed off-target to prevent collateral damage".
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The Paveway IV, which incorporates a Thales Missile Electronics-developed Aurora fuze, has been deployed against moving targets as well as static ones. By Seymour's account, risk to non-combatants and civilian property is minimised by the ability to program the weapon in the cockpit, allowing quick switches between impact setting and airburst setting, while the combination of global positioning system and laser guidance facilitates precision. The weapon also can penetrate armoured targets and can be dropped through cloud.
Seymour confirms that 1 April remains the target date for the RAF Tornado GR4s to enter service in Afghanistan as replacements for the Harrier GR9/9As.
The initial weapon system is "yet to be confirmed". Likely to be drawn initially from the RAF's Lossiemouth-based 12 Sqn, the Tornados will provide close air support from Kandahar airfield, at which the Joint Force Harrier organisation has maintained a continuous presence since 2004.
Work to construct new hard-standing and associated facilities for the Tornado is "ongoing", according to Seymour. Asked about the possibility of delays, he says: "We were given every assurance that... the infrastructure side would be fine to support Tornado."
The Paveway IV was originally due to attain operational capability with the Tornado GR4 in 2011, but the schedule has been accelerated under an urgent operational requirement deal.
Alongside the Tornado integration project, Raytheon is working to integrate the Paveway IV with the Eurofighter and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter on an "ongoing, multiyear" basis.
Source: Flight International