The US Air Force plans to launch production of a new Raytheon missile to equip its weaponised unmanned air vehicles with a precision-guided projectile featuring a smaller but still potent blast radius.

The announcement by the Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC) pushes Raytheon's internally funded, 15kg (33lb) Griffin into the spotlight after spending three years in near-obscurity.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems is being awarded a contract to support production of a capability to integrate the Griffin on the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs, the ASC says in a solicitation notice posted on 30 August.

It is the latest sign of the US military's growing support for the Griffin missile, which includes a selectable fusing capability, for both manned and unmanned aircraft.

USAF Reaper
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has been awarded a contract to support production of a capability to integrate the Griffin on the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs

US Army officials are seeking to integrate the weapon on the AAI RQ-7 Shadow UAV. Meanwhile, US Marine Corps budget documents show the Griffin is in the weapons package carried by the Lockheed Martin KC-130J Harvest Hawk, a tanker/transport modified to perform a supplementary role as an aerial surveillance and attack system.

Although less than one-third the size of Lockheed Martin's AGM-114 Hellfire, the Griffin is among of a new class of miniature, precision-guided weapons rising in demand during an era when aerial strikes on insurgents carries the risk of killing innocent civilians.

As an internally funded project by Raytheon, Griffin also represents a new kind of business model for the US munitions market, with the manufacturer paying for development and assuming the risk of failure.

Raytheon credits a new organisation stood up by US Special Operations Command to promote the fielding of new kinds of miniature, precision-guided weapons.

"The experience with the Joint Acquisition Task Force Dragon effort enabled Raytheon to develop an internal quick-reaction capability for rapid fielding and rapid integration," the company says, adding that the capability is being applied to UAVs.

In addition to the Griffin, Raytheon has also developed the small tactical munition, a 5.9kg unpowered bomb with a dual-mode seeker for attacking personnel and light vehicles.

Source: Flight International