Military Aviation

F-16 Downs Drone with APKWS providing Proof of Concept for using Laser-Guided Rockets to Perform Cruise Missile Defense

The APKWS is a fraction of the cost of an AIM-120 missile commonly used for cruise missile defense.

The 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) shot down a subscale drone using an AGR-20A Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) laser-guided rocket on Dec. 19, 2019, providing a proof of concept for using rockets queued from an F-16 targeting pod as viable munitions to perform cruise missile defense (CMD)

“The test was unprecedented and will shape the future of how the Air Force executes CMD,” said Col. Ryan Messer, commander, 53d Wing. “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.”

Originally developed as a low cost, low collateral damage air-to-ground weapon for use in Afghanistan and Iraq, adapting the AGR-20A for counter-air use is momentous, pointed out 1st Lt Savanah Bray, 53d Wing, in the article F-16 downs target drone with laser guided rocket in unprecedented test. The APKWS technology transforms standard 2.75-inch (70-millemeter) rockets into precision munitions by simply installing the guidance kit between the warhead and engine of an unguided rocket. The APKWS rocket’s extreme accuracy is ideal for minimizing collateral damage to assets in close proximity to targets, thereby reducing risk for troops in the field while providing close air support. BAE Systems has converted a standard unguided rocket by installing a guidance kit between the existing warhead and propulsion unit. Currently 20,000 APKWS rockets are being produced per year.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-16D Fighting Falcon 19th Air Force, 56th Fighter Wing, 310th Fighter Squadron “Tophats”, LF/88-0175 – Luke AFB, AZ – 2011

The AGR-20A is a fraction of the cost of an AIM-120 missile commonly used for cruise missile defense. Additionally, the AGR-20A can be loaded faster than an AIM-120 and an aircraft can carry two-to-three times the number weapons.

This directly supports the NDS priority of reform the Department for greater performance and affordability.

Finding a more cost-efficient CMD weapon was the #2 of 76 Tactics Improvement Proposals following the January 2019 Weapons and Tactics Conference, known as WEPTAC. The 85th TES planned and conducted the test with support across the Air Force and contract partners ensuring efficacy and potential prior to execution.

“This proof of concept can have implications for homeland defense missions, Combined Defense of the Arabian Gulf, and beyond,” said Messer. “I am exceptionally proud of the efforts of the 85th TES and the units across the 53d Wing that made this possible.”

Photo credit: BAE Systems

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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