The AGR-20 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) is a design conversion of Hydra 70unguided rockets with a laser guidance kit to turn them into precision-guided munitions (PGMs). APKWS is approximately one-third the cost and one-third the weight of the current inventory of laser-guided weapons, has a lower yield more suitable for avoiding collateral damage, and takes one quarter of the time for ordnance personnel to load and unload.
Where possible the system utilizes existing Hydra 70 components such as launchers, rocket motors, warheads and fuzes. The weapon bridges the gap between the Hydra 70 and AGM-114 Hellfire systems and provides a cost-effective method of engaging lightly armored point targets. APKWS is the U.S. government's only program of record for the semi-active, laser-guided 2.75-inch (70 millimeter) rocket. It converts the Hydra 70 unguided rocket into a precision guided munition through the addition of a mid-body guidance unit developed by BAE Systems. The APKWS has also been successfully tested in live fire exercises with the Forges de Zeebrugge unguided rocket, converting it into a precision guided munition and demonstrating the technology can be used on other rocket types than the Hydra 70.
U.S. Marines of the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 demonstrating the conversion of a Hydra 70 into a APKWS II and loading into a Bell AH-1Z Viper.
The APKWS II uses the Distributed Aperture Semi-Active Laser Seeker (DASALS) technology. This system allows a laser seeker to be located in the leading edge of each of the forward control canards, working in unison as if they were a single seeker. This configuration allows existing warheads from the Hydra 70 system to be used without the need for a laser seeker in the missile nose.
The APKWS II system is composed of the launch platform, rockets equipped with the WGU-59/B mid-body guidance unit, the lengthened 7-tube LAU-68 F/A rocket launcher, the SCS 7 aiming cue (not needed for attack helicopters), and Fastpack PA-140 and CNU-711/E storage kits for rockets and guidance kits, respectively, to ensure they are safe in the field. The WGU-59/B mid-body guidance unit is equipped with DASALS seeker optics which deploy 0.5 seconds after launch and are attached in between the Mk 66 Mod 4 rocket motor and a warhead and fuze, which increases length by 18.5 in (47 cm) and weight by 9 lb (4.1 kg) over the legacy Hydra system. Firing ranges are 1,100-5,000 meters, the former of which can be hit less than 5 seconds after firing. Maximum range is constrained by use of the existing Hydra 70 motor, but since the seeker can see as far as 14 km (8.7 mi), a more powerful motor could extend range while retaining accuracy;Nammo is working on a modified rocket motor that can extend range to 12–15 km (7.5–9.3 mi).
A software upgrade of the APKWS will be applied starting in late 2021; the upgrade increases range by 30% by means of an optimized flight trajectory to engage targets at a steeper angle of attack, while also being qualified on both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft in a single variant and improving the surface danger zone logic for better training range options.
In June 2021, BAE successfully tested the APKWS in a counter-unmanned aerial systems (C-UAS) role. An APKWS-equipped rocket was fitted with a proximity fuze and destroyed a Class 2 UAS. The proximity fuze enables it to intercept UAS at a lower cost than other methods, and due to the rocket's laser guidance that activates on launch it does not require locking on to the target before launch.
July 2012: BAE Systems receives full-rate production contract for APKWS from the U.S. Navy. The first FRP deliveries were in October 2012 and the company expected the next FRP option to be awarded by the end of 2012.
September 2012: The Navy awards a contract to officially integrate the APKWS into the Fire Scout.
October 2012: BAE announces its intention to modify the APKWS II to be fired from fixed-wing tactical fighter platforms.
January 2013: Additional conversion kits ordered. No in flight failures during the 100 combat launches in Afghanistan to date.
February 2013: APKWS launched from an A-10 Thunderbolt II. Three sorties were conducted. The first sortie carried the rocket and launcher, and the second sortie fired an inert, unguided rocket to ensure the weapon would separate from the aircraft. Two armed rockets were fired during the third sortie from 10,000 and 15,000 feet. The second rocket launched into a 70 knot headwind, and both impacted within inches of the target. The Air Force is considering using the APKWS II operationally by 2015 if further testing is successful.
April 2013: A UH-1Y Venom fired 10 APKWS rockets at stationary and moving small boat targets, scoring 100 percent accurate hits on single and multiple targets over water. The engagement ranged from 2–4 km using inert Mk152 high explosive and MK149 flechette warheads. The UH-1Y had the boats designated by an MH-60S.
October 2013: APKWS successfully fired from an AH-64 Apache. Eight rockets were fired with the helicopter flying at up to 150 kn (170 mph; 280 km/h) and up to 5 km (3.1 mi) from the target. Launch altitudes ranged from 300 ft to 1,500 ft. BAE wants airworthiness qualification on the Apache for international sales to AH-64 operators.
March 2014: LAU-61 G/A Digital Rocket Launcher (DRL) deployed with HSC-15.
July 2014: BAE reveals that the APKWS has reached Early Operational Capability (EOC) with one squadron of MH-60S helicopters. The MH-60R will be outfitted within "12-18 months."
August 2014: APKWS tested on Australian ArmyEurocopter Tiger at Woomera Test Range. A helicopter was on the ground and fired seven rockets which successfully hit their targets. The rocket could enter Australian service by early 2015 on army Tigers and navy MH-60R helicopters.
November 2014: APKWS tested on Australian Army, 16 Aviation Brigade, Eurocopter Tigers, this time airborne, near Darwin. Tests included using APKWS to convert a Forges de Zeebrugge (FZ) unguided rocket into a laser precision-guided weapon. All 10 rockets struck within a metre of the laser spot.
October 2015: US Army AH-64 Apache helicopters to field weapon in Iraq and Afghanistan.
March 2016: First rocket variants for launch from fixed-wing aircraft shipped to Marine Corps Harriers.
June 2016: APKWS deployed on USAF F-16 and A-10 as part of an urgent operational requirement.
October 2016: Production rate increased to 5,000 a year.
On 14 April 2014, the U.S. Navy signed an agreement with the Jordanian Air Force for the first international sale of the APKWS for use on the CN-235 gunship. Jordan received 110 units in late November 2015.
In November 2014, the State Department approved the sale of up to 2,000 APKWS rockets to Iraq.
In June 2015, a deal to sell 6 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to the Lebanese Air Force was approved that included the sale of 2,000 APKWS rockets for use on the turboprops. The US$462 million sale was financed by Saudi Arabia.
In April 2018, The U.S. State Department approved the future sale of APKWS units to the Mexican Navy at the same time that they approved the sale of eight MH-60R helicopters.
In December 2019, the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Eglin AFB, Florida, conducted a test using APKWS rocket against a drone representing a cruise missile. By adapting the rocket for cruise missile defense, it can serve the same role as the much more expensive AIM-120 missile, according to an Air Force release. "The test was unprecedented and will shape the future of how the Air Force executes CMD," Col. Ryan Messer, commander of the 53d Wing at Eglin, said in a release. "This is a prime example of how the 53d Wing is using resources readily available to establish innovative ways that enhance combat capabilities for our combat units."
In June 2020, BAE announced they had completed test firings of the APKWS from a ground launcher for the first time. Several rockets were fired from an Arnold Defense-built launcher called the Fletcher designed specifically for ground vehicles, demonstrating the weapon's ability to address a demand for standoff ground-to-ground precision munitions for small ground units.
Ukraine is being supplied with APKWS rockets.