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March 17, 2007: After demonstrating how effective the Viper Strike "smart bomb", was when launched from the U.S. Army Hunter UAV, the U.S. Air Force began talking about is adapting the weapon for use on Predator UAVs and AC-130 gunships. That was 18 months ago. Now the air force is actually starting to do the work necessary to adapt the Viper for the AC-130.

Viper Strike is a 36 inch long unpowered glider. The 130mm diameter (with the wings folded) weapon weighs 44 pounds. Because the Viper Strike comes straight down, it is better suited for urban warfare. Its warhead weighs only four pounds, and less than half of that is explosives. This means less damage to nearby civilians, but still powerful and accurate enough to destroy its target. A laser designator makes the Viper Strike accurate enough to hit an automobile, or a foxhole. Moreover, a Predator can carry two Viper Strikes in place of a single, hundred pound, Hellfire missile. An AC-130 could carry dozens of Viper Strike weapons, which can be stored internally and ejected via a small opening in the hull of the aircraft, or launched from underwing racks. A major advantage for the AC-130 is that it can use the Viper Strike from higher altitudes, like 20,000 feet, that would make them immune to most ground fire. Right now it has to fly lower, even to use its 105mm cannon. The AC-130 sensors still show a clear picture of what's on the ground when the aircraft is at 20,000 feet.

There is also talk of fitting Viper Strike with a fragmentation, or fuel-air-explosive (thermobaric) warheads. That could take another 18 months or so to get going. The first test of Viper Strike, launched from a UAV, took place four years ago. The delays, in getting this weapon in the hands of the troops, were caused largely by disagreements over technical and organizational issues. Not an uncommon event, although in wartime it's often possible to cut through the crap.

 


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