Northrop Grumman is seeking approval to export the Viper Strike precision munition as the US Army proceeds with plans to deploy a limited number of the laser-guided weapons on its Hunter unmanned air vehicles. Viper Strike is a modified Brilliant Anti-Tank (BAT) submunition with the acoustic and infrared sensors removed and replaced with a laser seeker.

Because of the unpowered Viper Strike's steep attack profile and small warhead, the munition is expected to cause less collateral damage than the laser-guided Lockheed MartinAGM-114 Hellfire missile carried by armed General Atomics Predator UAVs, particularly in urban areas. A nine-flight test series conducted in late July included an attack on a truck parked between construction trailers. Damage to the trailers, simulating buildings, was minimal, says Bud Forster, vice-president land combat systems.

Viper Strike scored nine hits in the nine flights, compared with seven out of nine in an earlier test series. The latest tests included day and night strikes against a range of stationary and moving targets detected and illuminated by the Hunter UAV's own infrared/television laser designator and by a soldier on the ground. After release from the UAV, the munition deploys a parachute and "loiters" until it acquires the target, then releases the parachute and glides to a diving attack.

The US Army will deploy 25 Viper Strikes by October, modified from existing BAT sub-munitions. The service has also acquired 75 basic BATs to arm its Hunters. Basic BAT production was axed earlier this year, but Northrop Grumman has been funded to develop an enhanced version with the Eagle Eye's dual-mode infrared/millimetre-wave radar seeker. Forster sees armed UAVs as the main market for Viper Strike and Eagle Eyes.

Source: Flight International