Small UAVs Equipped With Mini-Weapons

A new generation of highly accurate mini-weapons is being developed for small, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for use against personnel and light vehicles. One factor in development is the need to include weaponries in small UAVs such as the RQ-7 Shadow from AAI Corp., in use by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, which cannot carry a 100-lb. Hellfire missile.

Raytheon’s latest offering in this area is the Small Tactical Munition (STM), a 13-lb. glide bomb with GPS and semi-active laser guidance that can hit fixed and moving targets in all weather. Development has been completed in an approach that Don Newman, program director for advanced weapons at Raytheon, calls “Lamott”—lay a missile on the table. “We build a missile with company money, then demonstrate it to people who might be interested,” he says.

The gamble is worthwhile because of the potential market—the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are interested in arming their Shadow UAVs with the weapon. Raytheon successfully tested the STM against targets. Newman says it is not a prototype but a producible weapon, and the company can take immediate orders.

Being small does not mean the STM is cheap. “When you have a precision weapon with GPS and seeker, most of the cost is in the nose,” says Newman. “You’ve got the same precision as a larger weapon, just in a smaller package.”

Mass production would bring costs down, and the STM could also increase the weapon load of the larger RQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs, both from General Atomics. “You could replace one Hellfire missile with 6-8 STMs,” Newman says.

Lockheed Martin is working on a small missile for the Army’s Extended Area Protection and Survivability (EAPS) program. This will be a mobile counter-rocket, artillery and mortar system with a range of at least 2.5 km (1.5 mi.). The EAPS defense will be radar-guided, with two interception options under consideration: a 50-mm projectile and the missile being developed by Lockheed Martin, which is 2 ft. long, 1.5-in. in diameter and weighs 5 lb.

“We are pushing the limits with this,” says EAPS Product Manager Chris Murphy, who is not aware of smaller guided missiles. Miniaturizing the components was a challenge Murphy compares to the technology used to downsize mobile phones and medical imaging devices. “The key is in the electronics and the receiver,” he says. “These are not off-the-shelf components.”

The missile will be a kinetic interceptor with semi-active radar guidance. Development has progressed well. Successful hardware-in-the-loop tests will be followed by flight tests this summer. In 2012 the missile will be tested against targets. At that point, says Murphy, the aim is to have something that is “nearly tactical.”

Lockheed Martin and the Army see other applications for the missile, including small UAVs. “There’s an option for a semi-active laser seeker,” says Murphy, with active millimeter-wave guidance as a possibility. With an explosive warhead it could engage ground targets as well as enemy UAVs. Other platforms might include fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, where it would be a self-defense or offensive weapon. It might even become an infantry weapon, weighing a fifth as much as the FGM-148 Javelin guided antiarmor missile, made by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

Textron Defense Systems is one of three companies (the others are Aerovironment and IAT) competing for the U.S. Air Force’s Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System (Lmams) contract. Lmams will be a 3-lb. weapon that a dismounted soldier can launch from behind cover to seek and identify distant targets via a video link and destroy them.

Textron’s entry is the Tactical Remote Aerial Munition (TRAM). Its advantages include a 1-hr. loiter time, twice what is required, and an advanced warhead. Software permits the operator to lock TRAM on to a maneuvering target.

The Air Force contract calls for three weapons from each manufacturer to be delivered in April for target tests. An order for the winning design should follow soon after.



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