Will Cheap Laser-Guided Rockets Give F-16 Fighters An Affordable Weapon to Kill Drone Swarms and Cruise Missiles?

Sebastien Roblin

On December 19, 2019 an F-16 Fighting Falcon single-engine jet fighter from the 85th Test & Evaluation Squadron used a single laser-guided rocket (see video here) to down a BQM-167 Skeeter drone over the Gulf of Mexico. 

The Skeeter conveniently emulates the profile and performance of a subsonic land-attack cruise missile.A companion article looks at how F-16s are being upgraded with new AN/APG-83 radars that will greatly enhance their effectiveness against small, low-flying targets like cruise missiles and drones.

The venerable F-16 has well-deserved reputation as an affordable higher-performance jet that is due to serve into the mid- century.  The new rocket test stays true to the F-16’s low-cost concept by exploring a vastly cheaper way to precisely blast small missiles and drones out of the sky.

Most modern air-to-air missiles are highly sophisticated and expensive weapons that rely on costly infrared or radar seekers.  Meanwhile, the basic unguided 70-millimeter Hydra rocket is an ultra-expendable workhorse—designed to be launched in large salvoes at ground targets in the expectation that at least a few will affect the target.

The AGR-20A Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) transforms these pedestrian rockets into precise but cheap laser-guided missiles by adding maneuvering fins and a laser-seeker.  As the 32-pound rocket leaps off from its pod at over twice the speed of sounds, its seeker automatically steers it towards a point illuminated by a laser targeter.  You can see the system in action here.

The APKWS has seen extensive combat use in the last few years—against ground targets.  But could it be adapted for use against aerial targets?

Read the original article.