One of the trends we’ve seen in recent years is precision weapons causing warheads to get smaller.
For many years, the goal of warplane designers was to greatly increase the payload of their designs. With unguided bombs, it took a lot of bombs to hit a target. For instance, on a typical raid, my dad would carry 22 Mk82 500lb bombs into North Vietnam. And this was a plane that was considered a precision strike aircraft back then. Precision meaning they could find a target like a steel mill at night or in bad weather. Just find it. Precision meant that at least some of the bombs would land on the steel mill.
Eventually, laser guided bombs made their debut in Vietnam (way back in 1967!) greatly increasing the accuracy of weapons. How much? For several years, the US had been bombing the Dragons Jaw Bridge in an attempt to cut the supply lines. They had lost quite a few aircraft and crews, but never succeeded in permanently destroying the bridge. Finally, in 1972, F-4’s dropping 2000lb laser guided bombs managed to drop the bridge.
Laser guided bombs first really entered the public conscious in Desert Storm. Videotape of the bombs unerringly hitting their targets was seen worldwide on CNN and other outlets. “Smart bomb” entered the lexicon. But here’s the thing. LGBs aren’t that smart at all. Ever play with a cat and a laser pointer? The cat just chases the laser dot wherever it goes? That’s exactly what an LGB does. The brains are really the sensor that points the laser. The first lasers were simply a box that the Weapon System Officer in the back seat of a Phantom pointed out the window. It worked, but just barely. Eventually, pods that mounted a laser coaxially with a TV camera fed a picture to the scope in the rear cockpit. The great advantage there was the system could be stabilized to account for the movement of the jet. Soon, a thermal Forward Looking Infra Red camera was mounted, allowing the jet to see targets in the dark. When we saw the videos of LGBs in Desert Storm, that was what we were seeing.
Pretty soon after LGBs were first used, it became clear to a lot of smart folks that using a laser to guide weapons would work for more than just big bombs. The Hellfire missile was designed to kill the massive numbers of Soviet tanks in Western Europe, should Ivan ever get frisky. The Hellfire was (and still is) the primary weapon of the AH-64 Apache helicopter. The big advantages of the Hellfire over previous helicopter mounted anti-tank missiles was that it had far greater range (so the bad guys couldn’t shoot at you as much) and it flew a lot faster.
Now, we’ve talked about HEAT warheads missiles like the Hellfire have. Great for killing tanks, but not so much for blowing up Jihadis. Simply switching warheads fixed that problem. But another problem with the Hellfire is it costs a lot of money. Also, helicopters can only carry so many.
Right now, one other option Apache crews have for toasting bad guys is the 2.75″/70mm rocket. We’ve been mounting rockets on helicopters a long time now. The 70mm rocket is a handy weapon, but it is unguided, so to hit a target, the chopper has to get uncomfortably close to the bad guys. We don’t really like to do that. Given the advances in modern electronics, someone came up with the bright idea of mounting a laser-seeker on the nose of a 70mm rocket. The program was originally called APKWS for Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System. LockheedMartin is the prime contractor and they’ve named the weapon DAGR. I’m sure DAGR is an acronym for something, but LockMart doesn’t say on their website. Still, it’s a bright idea. Now, instead of having to shoot from 1000 meters or less, our helo bubbas can pop one of these from several thousand meters. Just the thing for hitting a truck full of Talibanis. And since it is so much smaller and lighter than a Hellfire, our Apaches can carry several more:
The program is still under development. Ground test firing has begun.
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