A modernized rocket launcher will soon enable MH-60 Seahawk helicopters to carry and deploy a variety of weapons for the first time.
As part of an Early Operational Capability (EOC), the Navy delivered the new system, called the Digital Rocket Launcher, to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 15 in March for pre-deployment training.
DRL is the answer to an urgent operational needs statement (UONS) from the Navy, and its quick fleet deployment is the result of the hard work and cooperation of a number of program offices here at Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), said Cmdr. Alex Dutko, the Airborne Rockets and Pyrotechnics team lead for the Direct Time and Sensitive Strike Weapons program (PMA-242).
Dutko’s team worked closely with the H-60 Multi-Missions Helicopter Program (PMA-299) to deliver DRL to the fleet in less than 24 months.
This new, “smart” launcher will first be integrated onto the MH-60S as part of a Rapid Deployment Capability (RDC) and later, onto the MH-60R and potentially other platforms.
“The fleet is very excited because this launcher will make an armed helo even more lethal than it already is,” said John Male, PMA-299’s Common Weapons lead. “The H-60 Sierra is already a significant threat, but the new launcher, and all that it brings, will allow the aircraft to engage a larger set of threats.”
Though the helicopter can be equipped with a variety of other weapons systems, the DRL will permit employment of the Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS), Dutko said. A semi-active laser guidance section added to legacy rocket components, APKWS offers greater precision than the unguided rockets currently employed from helicopters.
Additionally, the DRL’s digital interface makes it capable of employing a wider variety of rocket configurations, offering significant flexibility to engage different target sets. DRL allows for sequential and selective single fire; selective and all ripple fire; and rocket-inventory tracking, not available in its legacy predecessor, which required aircrew to keep a physical record of rockets fired.
“When the vice chief of naval operations (VCNO) told us to ‘Get lead in the air,’ that was a clear, concise and direct statement reflecting the urgency with which we needed to accomplish this effort,” said Capt. Jim Glass, PMA-299 program manager. “Having a UONS is in integral part of this process, but when Navy leadership reinforced the urgency of the need with a short direct edict, the imperative was crystal clear, and this joint team responded.”
In 2012, the team was challenged to complete the project in 24 months and deliver EOC to the fleet in March 2014.
“We have a lot of important programs in our portfolio,” Capt. Al Mousseau, PMA-242 program manager explained. “While all of these programs are developing and delivering capability crucial to the warfighter, DRL is an RDC that Navy leadership asked us to deliver to the fleet as quickly as possible — at least one year ahead of what a normal program would have delivered.”
Throughout the accelerated development effort, the team overcame numerous technical challenges and ultimately produced 22 launchers that fully incorporate a multitude of configuration changes. These launchers will support the scheduled deployment of HSC-15 later this summer.
“It’s not often that you see a program go from a sketch on a piece of paper, to a reality,” Dutko said. “I keep telling the team: this is unique, special. EOC is just the first step to equipping the fleet with the capability and lethality that we need to be effective and successful in countering the fast inshore attack craft threat.”
PMA-242 is responsible for the acquisition, development and sustainment of weapon systems, including anti-radiation missile systems; airborne rocket systems; precision guided munitions; airborne gun systems; and joint air-to-ground munitions. PMA-299 provides full-spectrum, worldwide support for the Navy’s SH-60B, SH-60F, HH-60H, MH-60S and MH-60R helicopters and user communities.