One of the most important weapons development programs here in France is the INS/GPS+laser-guided variant of Sagem’s AASM (armement air-sol modulaire in French, now also known by its NATO name of SBU-38 Hammer). The AASM has been achieving good success in its INS/GPS- and INS/GPS+IR-guided versions, and the laser version will provide the significant ability to hit moving targets.
The AASM is a fully modular weapon with three different guidance packages and warhead sizes ranging from 125 to 1,000 kilograms (275 to 2,200 pounds) that correspond to NATO’s Mk 80 series. Only the 250-kilogram warhead is currently in use, although the 125-kilogram weapon is now cleared. Other options include general-purpose and penetration warheads, and an insensitive munition for shipboard use.
In addition, the AASM has a rocket booster kit that is common to the 125-, 250- and 500-kilogram warhead options that extends range to over 70 kilometers when fired from high altitude, or 15 kilometers at low level. The Rafale can carry up to six AASMs through the use of triple carriers, and all six can be independently targeted and simultaneously launched.
Sagem is currently gearing up for a full evaluation of the laser AASM by the Cazaux flight-test facility of France’s DGA armaments agency early next year, leading to service entry by 2013. At least three test firings are planned against moving and time-sensitive targets. The DGA’s flight test department has already conducted numerous captive-carry test flights, including near-vertical dives and fast runs at low level against vertically mounted targets to mimic the terminal phase of the missile.
These flights led to three developmental firings at the Biscarrosse range, the first of which (L1, conducted on June 17 last year) ended in a vertical diving attack profile. The L2 test was launched at more than 40 kilometers range and employed a delayed designation with a deliberately diffuse laser spot. The final development test, L3, was conducted from a Rafale on April 21 this year at a 90-degree off-boresight angle and a range greater than 15 kilometers. The target was a laser spot traveling at 80 kilometers per hour along a banner, the inert weapon hitting within one meter of the spot.
Laser AASM will significantly enhance the Rafale’s capability in the close-air-support role by allowing a loitering aircraft to rapidly engage time-sensitive and moving targets, regardless of boresight angle and using a variety of designations sources. Further developments planned for the family include an airburst fuzing option, additional anti-ship capability and a datalink that allows mid-flight retargeting and battle damage assessment.