November 14, 2015: Adam Szczepanik – Strategy Page
An American firm (Raytheon) has successfully tested a new revolutionary weapon; the Pike 40mm laser guided missile. Pike is another step in the constant shrinking of precision guided munitions, much like the miniaturization of personal electronic devices everyone is familiar with. 40mm Pike is a major step in further miniaturization of laser guided missiles especially for infantry and ground vehicles. Pike will be much cheaper than heavier existing systems like Javelin. The tiny 0.7 kg (1.5 pound) and 43 centimeter (17 inch) long Pike can reach targets up to two kilometers distant and come within 4.5 meters (14.5 feet) of the designated target. The major advantage of this missile is that it can be fired from some of the already existing 40mm grenade launchers, like the M320 and FN EGLM. All that is needed is a second soldier with pistol sized laser designator illuminating a target for the missile, and thanks to the semi active laser homing and parabolic trajectory of the missile, the target needs to be illuminated only about 15 seconds after the missile is launched. This allows the missile to be launched from behind cover, and limits the time during which the spotter with laser designator has to be exposed to enemy fire. The Pike is also expected to be integrated with other launch platforms, including small UAVs, boats, and light vehicles. The missile’s 0.3 kg (0.6 pound) blast-fragmentation warhead, slightly larger than that of an ordinary 40mm grenade has 10 meter (32 feet) lethal radius. Further upgrades are also planned for Pike’s electronics, including data link capability and multiple-round simultaneous programming.
Pike is part of a trend. Rrecently developed laser guided versions of 70mm rockets, like the Talon, Cirit, DAGR, and APKWS program were the first examples of rapid progress in miniaturization of air launched weapons. Developed since 2002, and first was used in combat in 2012, the APKWS was the first of these missiles to prove the concept worked. These 70mm guided rockets are basically 13.6 kg (30 pound) 70mm missiles, with a laser seeker, a 2.7 kg (six pound) warhead, and a range of about six kilometers. Laser designators on a helicopter, aircraft, or with troops on the ground, are pointed at the target and the laser seeker in the front of the 70mm missile homes in on the reflected laser light. The $28,500 guided 70mm rocket is used against targets that don't require a larger (49 kg/108 pound), and more expensive (over $100,000), Hellfire missile but still needs some targeting precision. In tests the APKWS hit within a meter (a few feet) of the aiming point, about what other 70mm missiles are capable of.
The 70mm missile makes an excellent weapon for UAVs, especially since you can carry more of them. The launcher for carrying these missiles is designed to replace the one for Hellfire but can carry four missiles instead of one. Other launchers for 70mm Hydra rockets, like the 7-tube LAU-68 were also adapted for APKWS. However, the APKWS, being based on aircraft carried unguided rockets, have not received a launcher deployable by ground forces.
This has forced the infantry to rely on guided anti-tank weapons, like the American Javelin, if no other precision weapons were available. These weapons, designed to fight armored vehicles, are not only challenging for infantry to carry in significant quantity due to their considerable weight of 15.9 kg (35 pound) per 1.2m (4 feet) single missile and launch container, but are also extremely expensive to use, especially in light of the fact that in Afghanistan and Iraq they were generally used against buildings, light fortifications, and trucks. A lot of the cost is due to the advanced, 8.4 kg (18.5 pounds) HEAT (High Explosive Anti Tank) warhead that features a top-attack mode specifically meant for defeating modern main battle tanks. The newest variant of the Javelin, FGM-148F, has a multi-purpose warhead available for enhanced effectiveness against buildings and fortifications, costs $78,000 per shot, in addition to a re-useable $126,000 Command Launch Unit.