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Air Weapons: Mini-Hellfire Finally Appears
   Next Article → AIR DEFENSE: When Bullets Won't Work
September 19, 2007: After a decade of effort, by several different companies, someone finally developed a guided version of the 70mm air-to-ground rocket. Lockheed-Martin just announced that their DAGR 70mm guided rocket is ready for service. DAGR has a further advantage in that it uses the Hellfire fire control system. Lockheed-Martin developed DAGR with their own money. Earlier this year, the U.S. Army cancelled work on a similar effort, APKWS (Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System). Both are basically a 25 pound 70mm rocket, with a laser seeker, a six pound warhead and a range of about six kilometers. Laser designators on a helicopter, or with troops on the ground, is pointed at the target, and the laser seeker in the front of the DAGR homes on the reflected laser light.

 

The 2.75 inch (70mm) rockets were developed during World War II as an air-to-air weapon for use against heavy bomber formations. The Germans had developed a similar, and very successful weapon (the R4M), but before long it was noted that neither the Japanese nor the Germans had any heavy bombers, and the U.S. 70mm rocket was switched to air-to-ground use. Actually, the 70mm rocket was retained for air-to-air use into the 1950s, but it was never successful in that role. The 70mm rocket became very popular in the 1960s, when it was discovered that the weapon worked very well when launched from multiple (7 or 19 tube) launchers mounted on helicopters. The 42-55 inch long rockets could be fired singly or in salvoes, and gave helicopter pilots some airborne artillery for supporting troops on the ground. There are many variations in terms of warheads and rocket motors. Some versions can go over 10 kilometers.

 

Developing a guided 70mm rocket took so long because the manufacturers underestimated the technical difficulties of getting the laser seeker and flight control mechanisms into that small a package, at a weight and price the army could afford. The price of the DAGR is about $20,000 each (about the cost of a smart bomb). The AKWS developer, BAE, believed it was close to perfecting AKWS, but Congress ran out of patience.

 

The guided 70mm rocker is to be used against targets that don't require a larger (hundred pound), and more expensive (over $100,000) Hellfire missile, but still need some targeting precision. In tests, the APKWS hit within a few feet of the aiming point, and the DAGR is apparently just as accurate. The DAGR makes an excellent weapon for UAVs, especially since you can carry four of them in place of one Hellfire.

Next Article → AIR DEFENSE: When Bullets Won't Work