The U.S. Navy is fitting Sikorsky MH-60 Seahawk helicopters with a new digital rocket launcher, for the first time enabling them to carry a variety of weapons. The “smart” launcher will be integrated on the MH-60S as part of a rapid-deployment capability, and later added to the MH-60R and potentially other platforms, the service said.
The launcher accommodates additional rocket configurations as well as the BAE Systems Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS), which converts a standard 70-mm Hydra rocket into a precision guided munition by adding a semi-active laser guidance section at mid body. The launcher “allows for sequential and selective single fire; selective and all ripple fire; and rocket-inventory tracking, not available in its legacy predecessor,” said the Naval Air Systems Command (Navair). Air crews previously had to keep a physical record of rockets fired.
Separately, the Department of Defense on March 27 announced a $37 million contract award to BAE Systems Information and Electronics, in Nashua, N.H., for 1,372 APKWS II WGU-59/B guidance sections. The U.S. Marine Corps has equipped AH-1W Super Cobra and UH-1Y Super Huey helicopters with the APKWS, and the system has also been integrated on the MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter.
“The [service] is excited because this launcher will make an armed helo even more lethal than it already is. The H-60 Sierra is already a significant threat, but the new launcher…will allow the aircraft to engage a larger set of threats,” said John Male, common weapons lead with Navair’s PMA-299 multi-missions helicopter program office.
Last month, the Navy delivered the new launcher to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 15, the “Red Lions,” based in San Diego, for pre-deployment training. It expects the squadron will deploy with the launcher this summer. A Navy team produced 22 launchers in answer to an urgent operational needs statement and delivered the system to the fleet in less than 24 months, Navair said. “When the vice chief of naval operations told us to ‘get lead in the air,’ that was a clear, concise and direct statement reflecting the urgency with which we needed to accomplish this effort,” said Capt. Jim Glass, PMA-299 program manager.