MBDA Buys Viper Strike To Expand U.S. Business

 - December 16, 2011, 9:45 AM
The Viper Strike weapon can glide more than 10 miles to targets, thanks to pop-out airfoils. (Photo: MBDA)

The American subsidiary of MBDA has bought the Viper Strike weapons business and production line from Northrop Grumman. The Huntsville, Ala.-based activity was Northrop Grumman’s only business unit to offer a direct-fires weapon. This is MBDA’s first acquisition in the U.S., where the pan-European company wants to expand “through a combination of acquisitions, organic growth and partnerships with other prime contractors.”

Viper Strike is one of a new generation of smart, high-precision weapons that have been developed for carriage by UAVs, and for use against targets that are confined by geography or the urban environment. Weighing only 44 pounds, it glides to the objective on wings that deploy after launch. Midcourse guidance is by GPS; terminal guidance is provided by semi-active laser seeker. It was first deployed on U.S. Army MQ-5 Hunter UAVs flying over Iraq in 2004. It was subsequently tested on U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunships and U.S. Marine Corps KC-130J tankers modified for strike missions in the Harvest Hawk program. A spokesman for MBDA told AIN that Viper Strike is still in production for U.S. special forces, presumably meaning for carriage by AC-130s and MC-130s. He declined to comment on reports that the Predator UAV and derivatives have also carried the weapon.

Previously, the main business of MBDA was production of the Diamond-Back range-extension wing for the Small Diameter Bomb (SDB-1) under subcontract from Boeing. However, the company’s facility at Westlake, Calif., has also developed a laser-guided version of the Zuni air-ground rocket. The spokesman said that the Fiscal Year 2012 U.S. Navy budget contains funds for acquisition of this weapon, which may be carried by F/A-18s and AV-8Bs. MBDA has also developed a very small weapon for UAVs named Saber (small air bomb extended range). Weighing only 13 pounds, it has been test-dropped from an AAI Shadow. The spokesman said that MBDA therefore now offers smart air-ground weapons for small and medium UAVs, as well as larger airborne platforms.