AMMAN, Jordan — A new 2.75-inch rocket launcher designed specifically for combat vehicles made its Middle East debut at the Special Operations Exposition this week.
The Fletcher laser-guided rocket launcher system could be spotted on top of an Oshkosh Special Purpose All-Terrain Vehicle, or S-ATV, at the expo with a BAE Systems-manufactured Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, or APKWS, positioned in the launcher.
St. Louis, Missouri-based Arnold Defense came up with the concept along with a team consisting of Norwegian company Nammo, BAE Systems and General Dynamics. While BAE provides the rocket and guidance package, Nammo manufactures the warhead and General Dynamics provides the rocket motor. A number of different laser designators, such as those of Leonardo or Rockwell Collins, can be integrated into the system.
Arnold Defense has been providing air-based rocket launchers since 1961 and has produced roughly 1.2 million over that time. Until recently, the company was the only game in town since the 1980s that made 2.75-inch rocket launchers, Jim Hager, the company’s CEO, told Defense News at the show.
Hager and his company have seen utility for its rocket launchers on both ground and sea-based equipment, but “nobody really listened until APKWS became a viable product,” Hager said.
Instead of spraying the enemy with dumb rockets in area-suppression missions, the APKWS provides pinpoint accuracy and, when paired with an Arnold launcher, flexibility, according to Hager.
A European special forces outfit was the first to understand the value of such a system, he said. The company, along with its partners, have spent a year working closely with the outfit to create the concept that has culminated in the creation of Fletcher, he added.
A special forces unit told Arnold Defense about a situation where it was pinned down by enemy fire from a mountain and only had a 60mm mortar system on hand. The unit couldn’t get enough elevation to destroy the target so it could move on, and the team was pinned down until darkness when its members were able to exfiltrate under cover.
With the Fletcher launcher, the degree of elevation is much higher, which gives it utility in an urban environment, too, Hager said, allowing it to point at tall buildings from close in, for instance.
Before APKWS, operators of rocket launchers were restricted to avoid collateral damage, “but now we have pinpoint accuracy, now we have a max effective range of about 8 kilometers,” Hager said, adding Nammo is working on a modified rocket motor that will extend to 12-15 kilometers.
But Arnold Defense sees applications across the entire spectrum, according to Hager.
“Infantry units can have self-contained artillery, if you will, but the ones that need it the most are special operations guys that are out there on their own and may be operating where they don’t have air cover or artillery support,” Hager said.
While Hager anticipates the first customer to be a European special operations force and expects to be under contract and shipping the product before the end of the year, he said there is interest in the U.S. Army both among the regular and special operations forces.
In the Middle East, “virtually every country has expressed an interest,” Hager said.
“It’s important because it’s a capability they’ve never had before, and while everybody seems to be focused on the special ops community, I personally believe the biggest opportunity for this product is base defense. They are going to put this at the front gate of every [forward-operating base] in the world and have a serious deterrent to the ubiquitous Toyota pickup truck coming racing in with explosives,” he added.
To design and develop a launcher for a ground vehicle platform, the company changed the form factor from what is typically a seven- or 19-tube launcher to a four-tube configuration. And the firm made it longer to fit the APKWS rockets. The tube walls are thicker, and the design can withstand the heavy rattling and bumping a combat vehicle will experience on off-road terrain.
The company will be test-firing the system at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, from a containerized weapon system next week, Hager said. It will be the first “semipublic” firing of the system, with members of the special operations community there as well as a variety of other interested parties.
The company is also planning to showcase the Fletcher launcher on an even smaller vehicle than the Oshkosh S-ATV ― the Polaris Dagor ― at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference later this month in Tampa, Florida, to showcase the flexibility of the launcher.
Polaris brought Dagor to SOFEX for the first time, although it has made many appearances at other shows worldwide.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.