France Develops Smarter Rockets
The drive for low collateral damage weapons continues, and one recent focus has been on making air-ground rockets ‘smarter’ by adding seekers. The U.S. has led the way, but Europe is catching up. Rocketsan of Turkey has developed a product; and now Thales subsidiary TDA Armaments is flight-testing a metric precision rocket (French acronym RPM) on the Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopter.
The development is supported by the Direction Generale de L’Armement (DGA) of the French Ministry of Defense, which is providing the helicopter and flight-test facilities at Cazaux airbase. The DGA has a wider program named Metric Precision Munition (MPM) that would also produce smart mortar, artillery and tank shells. According to Daniele Prophet, the MPM program manager for the DGA, the aim is to develop common, low-cost components for all these applications, including the semi-active laser guidance system; the inertial measurement unit; the electronic bloc calculator; the control actuators; and the guidance algorithms.
For the moment, though, the focus is on the RPM fired from helicopters. TDA has been working on this for three years, adapting the 68mm rocket that is already in service on the Tiger. According to Matthieu Krouri, the TDA program manager, this rocket offers a unique induction technology for communicating with the launch platform. There are no wire connectors, which makes it more reliable, eliminating misfires, and also reducing maintenance and reload times. “It’s our unique selling point versus other rockets, and it’s been combat proven since 2009,” he claimed.
TDA began to adapt the rocket for precision use three years ago, doing wind-tunnel, centrifuge and five-axis bench tests of the guidance kit and algorithms. It has a maximum engagement range of 20,000 feet and is designed to hit targets such as small vehicles with a circular error probable (CEP) of just one meter. “The warhead and fuze are being developed under another DGA contract; the aim is that there should be no blast effect beyond 20 meters from the impact,” said Krouri.
The DGA began to evaluate the rocket’s flight envelope last year, with ground-launched tests. The first firing from the Tiger took place in January, with another in April. The next step is to fire on a target that is actually designated by the crew of the helicopter; this is due to take place next month. No warheads are yet fitted. The DGA has developed a new, instrumented flight test pod that contains a radar transmitter, GPS and three high-speed cameras. It analyses the rocket’s trajectory and was described as “a real innovation” by DGA flight test manager Christophe Poret. “We’ve developed this pod as a plug-and-play device with multiple future applications,” he added. Future flight testing of the RPM will include the warhead and fuze (by 2015); an expansion of the firing envelope; and firing against mobile targets. The goal is to have the weapon in service on the Tiger in 2018.
Krouri emphasized that TDA’s co-operation with the DGA will result in a fully, state-certified weapon–unlike some competing ‘smart’ rockets that he mentioned. “We are not selling kits, we are selling products,” he added.