The US Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office (JCO) has successfully tested BAE Systems‘ Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) laser-guidance kits in a counter-unmanned aircraft systems (C-UAS) mission.

The test against Class-2 uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) was conducted at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, and marked a milestone in deploying precision-guided rockets.

The APKWS technology transforms unguided rockets into smart munitions for precision strikes on soft and lightly armoured targets. The newly developed proximity fuze for the standard M151 warhead allows the laser guidance kits to target Class 2 and Class 3 drones, typically weighing less than 55lbs.

The APKWS system now enables rockets to engage and destroy drones at a fraction of the cost of existing C-UAS systems with unprecedented precision. In 2021, BAE systems developed an advanced version of the APKWS guidance kit, which improved the range of APKWS-guided rockets by up to 30%.

According to BAE Systems, during the US Department of Defense-led exercise, the 70mm APKWS-guided missiles demonstrated 100% effectiveness when fired against 25-50lb drones travelling at more than 100mph.

The APKWS C-UAS solution is platform agnostic, permitting multiple options to accelerate fielding. The laser-guidance kits are produced at BAE Systems’ manufacturing facility in Hudson, New Hampshire, and are available to all US armed forces and allies via Foreign Military Sales.

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In the past, BAE Systems have successfully test-fired APKWS rockets from US Army Apache A4-64D Helicopters. The Australian Defence Force has also conducted live fire trials of APKWS rockets from its Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter in the country’s Northern Territory.

The US has delivered the APKWS laser-guided rockets to Lebanon as well. The delivery cost the middle eastern country $16m and arms the Lebanese Air Force’s A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft built. 

Aimee D’Onofrio, a director of Precision Guidance and Sensing Solutions at BAE Systems, said that the APKWS is at full-rate production, with capacity to increase to 25,000 units per year.

With the successful testing of the laser-guidance kits, the US and its allies now have access to a precision-guided munition that can accurately engage and destroy small drones at a fraction of the cost of traditional C-UAS systems.

In 2019, the US Department of Defense (DoD) awarded BAE Systems a $2.7bn contract to produce Advanced Precision Kill Weapon Systems (APKWS II) to support the US military and foreign sales.