June 27, 2009: U.S. defense manufacturer Lockheed Martin announced yet another successful test of its DAGR air-to-surface missile. So far, over 90 percent of guided tests have been successful, and over 93 percent of all tests. The 25 pound, laser guided missile is just the right size for helicopters and UAVs. Nearly two years ago, DAGR was declared ready for service, but the U.S. Department of Defense didn't respond with any orders. So far, there have been no sales to anyone.
This, after twelve years of development effort, by several different companies, there is finally a guided version of the World War II era 70mm air-to-ground rocket. DAGR would appear to be an ideal weapon, as it also uses the Hellfire fire control system. Lockheed-Martin developed DAGR with their own money. Two years ago, 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, are pointed at the target, and the laser seeker in the front of the DAGR homes on the reflected laser light. DAGR actually weighs about 30 pounds (the 70mm rocket plus the guidance package).
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, so 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 larger Hellfire is 178mm in diameter and weighs 105 pounds. The price of the DAGR is about $20,000 each (about a third less than a smart bomb). The AKWS developer, BAE, believed it was close to perfecting AKWS, but Congress ran out of patience and money for it.
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 just as accurate. The DAGR makes an excellent weapon for UAVs, especially since you can carry four of them in place of one Hellfire. The launcher for DAGR is built to replace the one for Hellfire, but carry four missiles.
Apparently the orders for DAGR have not been forthcoming because the Hellfire is doing the job and there just isn't a big demand for a smaller missile. So far.