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Video: Army Research Lab Scientists... Tells Warrior About Engineering New Explosives

By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

(Washington D.C.) Army ground gunners refining anti-armor combat tactics broke new ground when a Stinger missile recently destroyed a drone target fired from a new Raytheon-built sensor-targeting unit initially designed for the Javelin anti-tank weapon.

The Stinger missile, which of course has a long history of hitting enemy helicopters and airborne threats, was shot out of the Javelin’s Lightweight Command Launch Unit at Eglin Air Force Base, bringing new tactical dimensions to ground-based drone defense. It was a first, as it introduces the ability to leverage the new sensor, range and targeting technologies built into the LWCLU.

The development introduces new possibilities for both the Stinger and the launcher, given that when firing the Javelin the LWCLU actually doubles the range from 2.5km to 4.5km and increases ground mobility restraints for soldiers because it is 30 percent lighter than its predecessor. The LWCLU brings increased sensor fidelity and targeting image resolution as well as a “fast lock” technology for improving attacks on the move, Raytheon weapons developers told The National Interest. The improved sensor performance also helps bring an ISR targeting component to dismounted ground war by, as a Raytheon statement explained it, “Offering twice the sight range at night and three times the site range during the day, regardless of weather conditions.”

“You have to be able to speed up the kill chain, and detect the adversary before he can detect you. You want to get a launch shot off before he knows you are there. It all starts with sensing,” Tommy Boccardi, Javelin Domestic Business Development, Raytheon, told The National Interest in October of last year

Using advanced symbology for at-range targeting, the CLU enables “slew-to-cue” attack using integrated sensing and advanced optics.

“The CLU sensor has a constant zoom so you don’t have to flip from a wide field of view to a narrow field of view. That is all done inside the sensors for you - precision targeting the entire time,” he said.

Longer range, more precise targeting also helps sustain doctrinal requirements for the Army, as enables more precise target identification to ensure the proper targets are hit.

“Our doctrine is we visually ID before we shoot. In this case you have an electronic sensor providing targeting data to the gunner,” Boccardi said.

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All of these nuances, proven to be of critical importance to the Javelin’s adaptation of the LWCLU, are now applicable to counter-drone attacks for dismounted soldiers. An ability to hit targets at longer ranges naturally expands the kinds of targets a Stinger missile is able to hit, such as drones. The Stinger, which Raytheon data says has achieved more than 270 fixed and rotary-wing intercepts, will now be able to hit higher-flying drones and other targets previously not reachable.

A Stinger-armed infantry force can add a useful attack option to complement the existing armored vehicle-mounted Short Range Air Defense program which now deploys Stryker vehicles armed with Hellfire, Javelin and Stinger missiles for counter air missions. Now, small groups of dismounted infantry units on the move in combat, potentially operating further forward with less mechanized support, will have a much stronger sphere of defenses against enemy drones.

U.S. Army adaptations and improvement to its anti-armor weapons is taking on new importance, given the evolving threat equation presented by rivals. For example, new Chinese-built, vehicle-mounted anti-tank missiles are being engineered to attack U.S. tanks .. “from above,” meaning at higher altitudes to cause more destruction with a top-down attack.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is now deploying this new kind of weapon reported to be more powerful and more mobile than existing weapons for mounted off-road attack missions against armored vehicles.

Quoting an unnamed “military expert,” the Chinese government-backed Global Times newspaper says the top down attack is in part intended to exploit the top of a tank where soldiers might be exposed. The new missile can be mounted on China’s Mengshi series off-road assault vehicle or infantry fighting vehicles. The concept of a higher-altitude top-down attack is interesting in that it could be of particular relevance in the mountainous plateau regions of Western China, and also be something of tactical value should there be combat circumstances where air support is not available.

“China operates a wide selection of anti-tank missiles, including portable ones and those launched by attack helicopters, drones, armored vehicles and assault vehicles, military observers said, noting that the new missile could be mass produced and be widely used by the PLA in the near future,” the Global Times writes.

There are not a lot of details available regarding the weapon available in the report, however its existence brings some interesting parallels to mind, such as the U.S. Army’s TOW, Javelin or even ground-launched Hellfire missile. There are several key respects in which the Chinese weapon may not parallel a number of more recent U.S. anti-tank weapons innovations.

The Army’s new Raytheon-built Lightweight Command Launch Unit, now firing Stingers, offers an interesting example of how U.S. weapons may compare. The emerging LWCLU actually doubles the attack range from 2.5km to 4.5km. The more recent innovations, slated to enter production in 2022, also incorporate improved sensor fidelity and a “fast lock” for improving attacks on the move. Army officials told Warrrior last year that the service is also engineering a new warhead for the Javelin as well.

The Javelin’s on-the-move targeting ability is also of great relevance as it seems to rival, if not outmatch the Chinese claim that its new vehicle-mounted weapon can attack while off-road. The Javelin can dismount and operate as a shoulder-fired weapon used by small groups of soldiers on the move or also mount and fire from tactical vehicles as well, such as those that go off road. The concept of a top-down attack certainly makes sense as something of tactical relevance, but apart from being deployable on mobile, off-road vehicles, there is nothing mentioned about what might better enable that kind of attack? Any weapon, if fired from an advantaged point at higher altitudes, should it be able to go off road, can exploit a tactical advantage and strike from the top down.

-- Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest --

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics& Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Raytheon