ITS LENGTHY BUT A DECENT READ.....ENJOY.
A desire to explore expanded combat effects for special operations scenarios is prompting a number of ongoing and pending demonstrations surrounding Viper Strike munition. The Viper Strike SOF efforts, which were briefed at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Winter Meeting in Fort Lauderdale, FL, grew out of a multi-service desire to explore the delivery of lethal ordnance from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Following the successful Operation Enduring Freedom combat operations by Predator UAVs armed with Hellfire missiles, Army planners began to examine options for placing a similar capability in the hands of Army ground commanders. In July 2002, these examinations led to the award of a 90-day demonstration contract to demonstrate the possibility of delivering a repackaged BAT (Brilliant Antiarmor) submunition from a modified U.S. Army Hunter UAV.
The BAT precision submunition was originally developed for delivery by the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) Block II missile. Designed for top attack against moving and stationary targets, the combination acoustic/infrared guided munition measures 5.5 inches in diameter, 36 inches in length and weighs 44 pounds. Each ATACMS Block II missile is capable of delivering 13 BAT submunitions against moving armored vehicles at a range of approximately 140 kilometers.
The July 2002 demonstration contract included: the design and integration of a mission integration unit that coordinates the flow of information and commands between BAT, Hunter and ground controller; the development of supporting software; and two demonstration firings (one instrumented in September and a live warhead firing on October 11).
For the Hunter modification, the BAT submunition was placed into a 9-pound tube housing called the BAT UAV Ejection Tube (BUET). The BUET protects the BAT during takeoff and landing. In combat operations, when the BUET is released from the UAV, the cover comes up and the BAT is dispensed by forward piston action.
The success of the original BAT demonstration project led to the January 2003 award of a Quick Reaction Capability (QRC) program for outfitting 78 BATs with BUETs, as well as the upgrade of six Hunter UAVs to deliver those munitions.
Meanwhile, under a nearly parallel development effort, engineers also began to modify a small number of BAT submunitions to investigate their use against point targets in congested urban settings. The modifications, called Viper Strike, involved removing the infrared seeker from basic BAT airframes and replacing it with a semi-active laser (SAL) guidance package. The new combination allows the dispensed munition to be guided by ground-based or air-based laser designators.
The initial Viper Strike demonstrations were conducted in March 2003 and utilized two different SAL seekers: a design from Elbit and a design from IAI.
According to John Miller, director of the Viper Strike program for Northrop Grumman’s Land Combat Systems in Huntsville, AL, the first demonstration resulted in a “seven-for-nine” engagement success rate. One of the failures was attributed to a bad aim point decision while the other was attributed to difficulty with one of the seekers.
In his AUSA briefing, Miller noted, “When we did our testing, we had difficulty with the IAI seeker so we dropped it out—we told them they could play later but we were going to go with Elbit. We also had to prove our concept of how we attack the target. We had pilots out there who had never shot one of these things before. And the other one of our misses was the result of trying to hit ‘the cone’ of a SCUD missile when we should have been hitting the truck.
“So we learned a lot from that series,” he continued. “And we went back out with the Elbit seeker in July and we went nine-for-nine.”
Special Operations Interest
He noted that the second target series also included slightly different target sets, selected in part to satisfy questions from the special operations community.
“The difference in this one was we wanted to go after moving targets and the special ops folks asked, ‘Can you hit soft targets as well?’ Because the first time it was all just armored targets—hard targets. What we learned in the second series of tests was that the warhead we had—which was the same warhead used in ‘base BAT’—has a much better fragmentary capability than we thought. We knew it would kill hard targets but we didn’t know how effective it was against soft targets. What we learned was that we have a very effective warhead against both types of targets,” Miller said.
Expanding on its effectiveness against soft targets, Miller said that the current warhead design provides an approximate 10-foot radius of fragmentation effects against personnel. However, industry designers are looking at the installation of a “sleeve” around the munition that would significantly increase those fragmentation effects against troops in the open.
At the other end of that lethality spectrum, potential users have significant interest in non-lethal applications for Viper Strike.
“At one of our [planning] meetings, we were asked a question by the special ops guys, ‘What if I want to kill a vehicle but not the people in it? Can you do that?’ And the answer is yes, since we have a selective warhead, and we can set it not to detonate. So we could take out the engine deck but allow the capture of folks inside the vehicle,” Miller said.
“They really wanted us to go after the non-lethal round and just take out the vehicle itself,” he added.
Additional special operations interest involved limiting collateral damage in built-up environments. Using street dimensions provided by military representatives, test planners placed two construction trailers to simulate buildings on either side of a street, then placed the target vehicle in the center of the “street” and designated it with a ground-based LLDR laser designator.
“Those buildings were set up based on what they told us was one of the narrower streets of Baghdad,” Miller said. “We put a vehicle right in the center of two construction trailers. The [Viper Strike] impact backed up the vehicle about 12 feet.”
While acknowledging that the trailers did sustain a few holes, he pointed to a video of the test shot to confirm that there was no significant collateral damage.
Based on those results, the U.S. Army began an operational needs statement (ONS) for deployment of Viper Strike on the Hunter UAV. According to Miller, approval of the needs statement is expected in the near future and will allow the near term deployment of 33 Viper Strikes “to the Iraqi theater” on a QRC basis.
Additional near term plans are taking shape to demonstrate Viper Strike on the Navy’s Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle. According to Miller, the Navy’s requirement is the ability to attack small boats and other potential terrorist platforms. Although nothing definitive has been signed, he noted that the Army’s Viper Strike program manager is in discussions with the Navy’s Fire Scout program manager with the likelihood of a demonstration at either China Lake or White Sands in the September 2004 time frame.
Viper Strike on AC-130
Looking slightly further in the future, Miller also outlined unfolding plans to demonstrate Viper Strike’s capabilities on AFSOC gunships. “The other thing we’re doing right now is working with the Air Force for an AC-130 gunship demonstration,” he said. “This is an ACTD [Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration] and AFSOC is the sponsor. We’re a high priority candidate for ACTD approval.
“Right now, the AC-130 uses the 105 mm howitzer, and they wind up flying left hand circles at altitudes between 15,000 to 18,000 feet,” Miller explained. “That puts them in harm’s way. They would really like to be able to fly at higher altitudes with more survivability, more standoff and also to stay pressurized. We believe that if we take Viper Strike, mount them in a rack, and shoot them through the floor, that we can give them that capability. And not only that, but we can give them the capability to shoot multiple targets types.
“In one of the discussions we had with them, we learned that another part of their problem is, as they fly along, the bad guys hear the aircraft coming. And when they hear the aircraft in the area they go and hide. But if you can give [the AC-130] a greater standoff and put them higher, then [the bad guys] can’t hear that noise. And by the time they hear it it’s too late.”
He noted that the standoff features of the guided submunition would provide the AC-130 with approximately 3,000 square kilometers of engagement area. “We expect the [ACTD] contract sometime in the November timeframe, and we expect it to be about a 2 1/2 year effort,” he added.
Making it Lighter
In parallel with the demonstration efforts and anticipated Army QRC fielding, designers are also working to lighten the Viper Strike munition from its basic BAT configuration.
“Viper Strike currently weighs 44 pounds, but we’re going to drive that weight down to about 25 pounds. And the reason we want to do that is so that we can put this munition on additional UAVs. We’ve already done some preliminary work, so we’re looking at [a weight goal of] about 30 pounds now,” Miller said.
Further enhancements would likely involve the addition of a GPS sensor.
“We’ve also been asked by the special ops community, ‘Could we go into a building?’ And the answer is yes,” Miller said, noting that the capability would be enhanced through the combination of a new GPS from L-3 Communications coupled with a warhead delay.
Emphasizing that current efforts focus on Hunter, Fire Scout and AC-130 platforms, Miller said that company engineers are internally looking at multiple delivery platforms, including HIMARS (12 Viper Strike per rocket pack), AV-8B Harrier (four per aircraft), Predator B and Osprey.
“Another advantage it gives by making this weapon a multi-service weapon is to hopefully reduce costs for any service that buys it,” Miller said.
“So Viper Strike gives you urban and complex terrain capability, and it’s an ‘eyes on target’ that can be designated from the air, by the UAV itself, by the AC-130, Kiowa Warriors, Apaches or ground lasers,” he concluded. “It provides a lightweight precision munition capability with low collateral damage, day and night, against moving and stationary targets. We’ve proven this concept. Our system is supported by the Army and the Air Force special ops. We’re just waiting for this ONS to be signed, and we’ll deploy the system to Iraq.”