High-tech guidance systems are fitting into increasingly smaller weapons as engineers work to bring them the same pinpoint accuracy once found only in mammoth missiles and hulking bombs.
Miniaturized weapons not only require microscopic electronics, but something to protect them from the crushing G-forces that their launchers create. Raytheon Technologies engineers have made advances on both fronts: The company's laser-guided Pike munition is nearly as narrow as some large-caliber ammunition, while the microelectronics in the company's Excalibur® artillery shell can withstand bullet-like acceleration – 0 to 760 mph in a fraction of a second.
“We’ve come really far. Now we have, basically, smart munitions you can hold in the palm of your hand,” said Frank Antenori, a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier who now manages the Pike program for Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a business of Raytheon Technologies.
Smaller circuit cards and better shock protection for electronics made guidance feasible for precision mortars and artillery shells. Now, miniaturized guided weapons – rockets, artillery, GPS-guided mortars, radar-seeking and anti-armor weapons – are likely to become a major part of ground warfare, according to U.S. Department of Defense officials.
Raytheon Technologies' Pike weapon measures 40 mm in diameter, only a half-inch larger than the 25 mm rounds fired by some military machine guns like those in the F-35 fighter jet and the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Soldiers can fire the two-pound, 16.8-inch long Pike munition from a rifle-mounted grenade launcher.
The benefit for ground troops: A lightweight precision weapon that doesn't tether them to a vehicle launcher. Using a laser designator that resembles a pistol, one soldier points at a target such as a light enemy vehicle, while another fires the munition. The goal, as with all precision weaponry, is to save innocent lives.
“When you have the capability to send something a mile and a half and hit within five yards or less of a bad guy, you are achieving what our troops have always wanted – take out a specific target and minimize collateral damage," Antenori said.
The Pike munition contains a rocket engine, which accelerates more slowly than a bullet or artillery shell. But engineers are also building guidance systems that can withstand the more jarring acceleration of those weapons.
Excalibur, a GPS-guided artillery shell, can fly 43 miles (70 kilometers) and strike within 6 1/2 feet (2 meters) of a target. Engineers encased the shell's electronics in a "hockey puck" filled with a putty-like material to protect them during firing.
Raytheon Technologies is developing a laser spot tracker that will allow Excalibur to strike moving targets and counter attempts to jam the GPS. A sea-based variant is also under development.