You may have noticed some logistical inefficiencies in current missile procurement. I’ll use Western examples, but there are similar Russian ones. We have several missiles that are about the same size and have about the same role: engagement of a visually (possibly with the help of infrared) acquired target. These missiles include the BGM-71 TOW, which might be launched from helicopters or ground vehicles; the AGM-114 Hellfire, which might be launched from helicopters or UAVs; and the AGM-65 Maverick, which might be launched from fixed wing aircraft or fixed wing aircraft. The Maverick’s warhead is quite a bit bigger, which contributes to its larger size. Otherwise, they’re all used for about the same sort of fire mission. Could we replace all three with a single missile?
Enter the YAGM-169. Quit snickering in the back. This missile weighs 49 kg and is 177.5 cm long. This matches the weight, but is a bit longer than the Hellfire missile, which is 163 cm long. This is, however, smaller and lighter than the Maverick. The big difference between the Hellfire and the Maverick, aside from platform-induced range variations, is the larger warhead. Here is where some compromises come in. The standard target for the Maverick and the Hellfire is an armored vehicle. The toughest armored vehicle is the MBT. If a Hellfire can kill any tank you please, why have the heavier warhead? The Hellfire can get this done with a large and powerful tandem shaped-charge warhead, delivered from above. Adding a fragmentation jacket provides some measure of multipurpose capability. We have our warhead, and hence, our Hellfire-like size.
What about heavier targets? Since the development of the Maverick, we’ve developed a number of precision-guidance kits for conventional bombs. Combine with a glide bomb kit and some altitude, gives us equivalent range. Alternatively, for well-defended targets, we can get significantly better standoff range from a longer range cruise missile like the AGM-158. Plus, we can carry more of the lighter YAGM-169s.
Okay. So we’ve perhaps accepted the smaller warhead size. What about range? Well, we have more advanced rocket motors, plus it’s hard to compare the range of the Hellfire and the Maverick, since the aircraft that launch the Maverick do so from a higher altitude and higher airspeed than that of the helicopter launching the Hellfire. Still, we can improve the range with a variable-thrust solid-fuel rocket motor.
What about guidance? Well, the TOW uses an old school SACLOS wire guidance system. Which is outmoded, and will be difficult to integrate onto a fast-moving aircraft. So forget it. Beyond that, the Hellfire has a couple different guidance options: a semi-active laser homing seeker and an active millimeter-wave radar seeker. The Maverick is currently available with a semi-active laser homing seeker, an imaging infrared seeker, or an optical CCD seeker. You might expect different versions of YAGM-169 with different seekers, but you’d be wrong.
YAGM-169 was designed with a triple-mode seeker that combined imaging infrared. semi-active laser homing, and active millimeter-wave radar homing in one unit. This is the one part of the missile that I’m concerned about, at least as far as cost. Still, it’s easy enough to build versions with separate seekers if cost becomes an issue.
That said, the YAGM-169 was (shockingly) on time and on budget. But the US cancelled it during Operation Iraqi Freedom because of budget pressures.
So what do we think? YAGM-169 was on budget, and tested from both fixed- and rotary-wing platforms. Awesome. Large production runs should help keep costs down. I’m wondering if it can also replace the TOW as a missile on e.g. Bradley, but we could press Spike LR or Javelin into this role, and those would be much easier for troops to reload in the field, being lighter.
Veridct: Approved for immediate production by the Borgundy Ordnance Procurement Board