The Hydra 70 rocket has been produced since the 1960s, but due to timely upgrades, it has remained relevant until now. The mass production of the Hydra makes it available to most countries, and the localization of production in some countries provides a stable transfer of missiles to the troops.
The rocket began to be developed in the late 1940s. Initially, the technical task was to create an unguided air-to-air rocket based on the experience of World War II air battles. The arrival of the first jets doubled the speed of approach to the target during frontal attacks, which greatly reduced the targeting time for the pilot. At the same time, the power of American aircraft’s AN/M3 machine guns was insufficient to destroy bombers. The development of a multiple launch system of unguided rockets was supposed to improve this situation by increasing the fire capacity and reducing the targeting time in frontal attacks.
Work on the new rocket continued until the late 1940s, The aircraft manufacturer North American and the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division was responsible for the development.
The production of the rocket was organized at Norris-Thermador Corp. in Los Angeles and Hunter Douglas Division Bridgeport Brass Co. in Riverside, California. Jackson Heights, which was responsible for the rocket engine, was also involved in the production of rockets. Hercules Inc. was authorized for fuel supplies. Stabilizer blocks were manufactured by Aerojet General. The final assembly and production of other elements were entrusted to North American Aviation.
The FFAR rocket (U.S. designation Mk.4) was adopted in the early 1950s. In a short time, she entered the weapon systems of such aircraft: F-86D, F-89, F-94C and CF-100. In addition, the rocket became the main means of defeating Soviet bombers in the NATO air defense system. It was also used with the F-102 Delta Dagger interceptor in parallel with guided weapons.
The new type of weapon impressed the American military so much that they refused to install gun weapons, giving preference to rockets. Such aircraft were the F-86D, F-89 and F-94C, which had only pods with FFAR unguided rockets.
But the practical use of these aircraft showed great problems. First, the accuracy of firing was so poor that a group of four aircraft could not hit the target with all the volleys of these rockets. A particularly clear demonstration of such poor accuracy took place on August 16, 1956. A pair of U.S. F-89 jets failed to shoot down an unmanned US Navy aircraft after spending 208 rockets on the attempt.
Secondly, after the salvo, the aircraft had to return to the air base for reloading. These two factors caused the rapid withdrawal of aircraft that had only rocket weapons.
In the late 1950s, the number of aircraft with rocket weapons decreased significantly. They were replaced by aircraft with cannon and guided missile weapon systems.
But despite such a failure, the rocket has proven itself perfectly as an air-to-ground weapon. A powerful warhead and a rocket volley made it possible to disable any enemy armored vehicles. For the use of rockets from helicopters and attack aircraft, the U.S. Army adopted a 7-Tube and a 19-Tube launchers.
Over time, the FFAR rocket ceased to meet the needs of the U.S. Army, prompting the initiation of a process to create a new rocket designed specifically for destroying ground targets. This new rocket was named Hydra 70, with “70” denoting its caliber in millimeters, replacing the old system of designations in inches.
Rocket weighs 6 kg and has a diameter of 70 mm. Its effective range is 8 kilometers, but the distance may vary due to different rocket motors. In total, Hydra rockets have six variants of Mk.66 engines, some of which are no longer produced.
The most common variant is the Mk.66 Mod.4 engine. Fuel burn time is 1 second, which allows the rocket to fly up to 10-12 kilometers with a sharp loss of thrust.
The initial speed of the rocket under standard conditions is 700 meters per second, but this indicator can be affected by the air temperature, and, therefore, the engine’s operation and its responsiveness. More details can be found in the table below.
On the rocket, the engine is installed at an angle to spin the rocket and stabilize it in flight.
Initially, it had no guidance system; a laser-guided variant was introduced in 2013.
Rockets can be installed in 7- and 19-Tube launchers, which are mounted on various helicopters, aircraft and ground vehicles. A wide range of launchers have been developed for the rocket.
Due to its modular design, the rocket has about 20 versions of warheads in its arsenal. They are divided between high-explosive, HEAT, smoke, illuminating, white phosphorus, inert training, and flechette.
For general stabilization of the rocket through the angular engine, Hydra uses special warheads with increased aerodynamic resistance.
In the early 2000s, the U.S. Army needed a precise and cheap system to destroy lightly armored targets. The technical task of finding a solution to this gap was entrusted to the American company BAE Systems.
In mid-2005, the company introduced a high-precision version of the unguided Hydra 70 rocket with a semi-active homing head. At the same time, the cost of the rocket tripled in comparison with the unguided version: from $7,000 to $21-24,000.
APWKS rockets are equipped with an improved engine from the Norwegian company Nammo. This increases the maximum range of the missile to 15 km. In addition, increasing the range is possible using an optimized trajectory, which is integrated into the missile control system.
In addition, a new HEAT/APAM warhead can be installed on the missile.
The new missile can be used from the same platforms as its predecessor, but in order to use precision guidance, the aircraft and helicopter must have a laser targeting system. Use from aircraft is possible with Litening 5 or Sniper XR targeting pods.
In December 2019, the U.S. Air Force’s 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron tested APKWS rockets against a drone that simulated a cruise missile. According to USAF reports, the rocket demonstrated the same capabilities as the more expensive AIM-120.
Already in 2021, the company conducted practical tests of the missile from a ground launcher. The tests demonstrated the missile’s ability to destroy ground and small unmanned targets.
Transfer to Ukraine
The first country to announce the transfer of APKWS rockets to the Ukrainian Armed Forces was the United States of America. This ammunition was included in the list published in the fall of 2022. Germany has announced the delivery of 20 APKWS mobile rocket launchers, joining the United States.
The first footage of the 37th Marine Brigade Marines using mobile launchers with APKWS missiles came in April 2023.
In the published video, the launcher on the chassis of the American HMMWV can be seen firing a shot, after which the rocket, adjusting the direction of flight, hits directly at the target in the building.
The second documented use of the APKWS mobile system occurred in May 2023, when soldiers of the 37th Marine Brigade destroyed the enemy in the Kherson region.
In mid-summer 2023, an unguided version of the Hydra 70 rocket was also spotted in Ukraine. The U.S. has announced their transfer to Ukraine in May 2023 in a $300 million aid package.
These rockets were first demonstrated in a video shared in August 2023. In the video, the pilot loads an aviation missile into a M261 19-Tube launcher. The pod is mounted on the hardpoint of a Mi-24V helicopter handed over by the Czech Republic.
The mass volume of deliveries and the possibility of localizing production of Hydra 70 rockets in Ukraine will help to switch to the NATO-standard caliber of unguided rockets. Integration is possible both on Mi-8, Mi-24, Mi-2 helicopters, Su-25, Su-24, and MiG-29 aircraft, as well as ground platforms.
A single caliber and a set of unified launchers in difficult times will help to avoid a shortage of this type of rocket, and the modularity of the design will ensure the performance of various tasks.
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