Apr 27, 2023
Ukraine’s newest marine brigade is firing Ukraine’s newest precision weapon: a 70-millimeter laser-guided rocket. A video that circulated online on Thursday depicts the 37th Marine Brigade’s Advanced Precision Kill Weapon Systems in action against Russian targets—including buildings and a tower-mounted sensor—in southern Ukraine’s Kherson Oblast. The tower-strike in particular underscores the APKWS’s precision. A tower presents a much smaller target than a building does.
The BAE Systems APKWS combines a classic 70-millimeter rocket with new guidance fins, each with a tiny laser sensor along its edge. The fin-mounted sensors detect the sparkle from a laser designator and steer the rocket toward the designated target. An APKWS rocket can travel as far as 6.5 miles. APKWS is compatible with warplanes and helicopters, but works perfectly well on ground vehicles, as well. Ukraine has gotten APKWS-armed Humvees from the United States as well as APKWS pickup trucks from Germany.
Both the Humvee- and pickup-based APKWSs include their own laser designators, but the rockets will follow laser sparkle from any designator. If the launcher crew doesn’t have a line of sight to the target, a forward observer or drone can do the designating. One 70-millimeter rocket packs a 10-pound warhead. That’s small compared to, say, the 25 pounds of explosives that are inside a 155-millimeter artillery shell.
But a 10-pound warhead is perfectly capable of blasting open a building, blowing up a lightly-armored vehicle or disabling a tank. “Highly effective against a variety of soft and armored stationary and moving targets,” is how BAE Systems described the rocket. As a bonus, APKWS works against drones, too—provided the designator can keep the laser on the drone as it speeds along.
The precision rocket could be an effective countermeasure to Russia’s 25-pound Lancet suicide drones, which pose a serious threat to lightly-protected Ukrainian artillery and air-defenses—especially on the open terrain of southern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s APKWSs have been a long time coming. The United States cut the first contract with BAE Systems for Kyiv’s guided rockets way back in May 2022. Follow-on contracts boosted the overall value of the APKWS package to $60 million. That should include around 2,000 rockets. Germany’s APKWS pledge included 20 launchers and additional rockets. It’s noteworthy that Kyiv has equipped the 37th Marine Brigade with APKWS. The new brigade—the third major ground-combat formation in the Ukrainian navy—boasts a unique mix of weapons. Not just APKWS, but also fast-moving AMX-10RC reconnaissance vehicles with precise 105-millimeter guns that can engage targets more than a thousand yards away. Oleksii Reznikov, the Ukrainian minister of defense, labeled the 15-ton AMX-10RC a “sniper rifle on fast wheels.” The brigade’s APKWS-armed Humvees also are snipers, of a sort. But they can hit targets much farther away than any AMX-10RC can.
David Axe – Forbes Staff. Aerospace & Defense. He is a journalist, author and filmmaker based in Columbia, South Carolina. Axe founded the website War Is Boring in 2007 as a webcomic, and later developed it into a news blog. He enrolled at Furman University and earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 2000. Then he went to the University of Virginia to study medieval history before transferring to and graduating from the University of South Carolina with a master’s degree in fiction in 2004.