A-10 Thunderbolt fires laser guided rocket
The A-10 Thunderbolt is getting an upgrade as it fired its first laser guided rocket, which impacted only inches away from the target, demonstrating the power of such weapons. The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II is a single-seat, twin-engine, straight-wing jet aircraft developed by Fairchild-Republic in the early 1970s. The A-10 was designed for a United States Air Force (USAF) requirement to provide close air support (CAS) for ground forces by attacking tanks and other armored vehicles, and other ground targets with a limited air defense capability. It was the first USAF aircraft designed solely for CAS. This add-on makes the A-10 Thunderbolt even more powerful in pursuing its mission. Rockets are a staple close air support weapon, but their weakness has always been their poor accuracy when shot at range. In improving rocket accuracy by several orders of magnitude, the APKWS makes the rocket a better weapon for today’s low intensity conflicts, where minimizing collateral damage is a top priority. The test squadron performed three sorties to demonstrate the capability and ensure the rocket could be fired safely from a fixed wing aircraft – a test that had never been accomplished before. The first sortie tested whether aircraft flight would be impacted by carrying the rocket and launcher. During the second sortie, the A-10 fired an unguided inert rocket to ensure the weapon would separate from the aircraft without any issues. For the final sortie, two armed, guided rockets were fired at a surface target at altitudes of 10,000 and 15,000 feet. The last APKWS shot was fired into a 70-knot headwind and impacted the target within the two-meter requirement specifications. Both shots were considered successful, but the accuracy of the APKWS made a real impression on the team. By improving rocket accuracy, the APKWS II gives the pilot the capability to achieve the desired weapons effect with a single rocket. Not only does this increase the lethality of any aircraft carrying rockets on a given day, it also allows the aircraft to do so at a greater range. This keeps the aircraft farther away from the surface-to-air threats typically found in a target area. Moving the APKWS to a fixed-wing aircraft began as an urgent operational need project for the Navy and Air Force in 2009. The tasking, called a joint concept technology demonstration, was to take the rotary-wing version of the rocket and modify it for fast-moving aircraft. The goal for the Air Force was to demonstrate it on the A-10 and the F-16 if possible. The Navy would test it on the AV-8B and F/A-18.