In early April 2011, Thales received an initial production contract for Lightweight Multi-role Missiles (LMM), to equip the UK’s next-generation AW159 Wildcat naval helicopters as their “Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon – Light” (FASGW-L). The parties offer no details regarding contract costs, as they’re re-routing funding from an existing project, in order to finalize LMM development and produce the initial set of weapons. The casualty is believed to be Thales’ laser beam-riding, Mach 3.5 Starstreak portable anti-aircraft missile, which reportedly had some of its technology re-used in the less costly LMM.
The LMM will fill a size niche on helicopters and UAVs that sits somewhere below the popular 100 pound plus Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire missile. Its operational concept is similar to the Russian AT-16 Vikhr.
Thales’ LMM/ FASGW-L
The initial LMM will be a 13 kg/ 28 pound weapon, carrying a laser beam-riding missile with a range of up to 8 km/ 4.3 miles, which packs a 3 kg/ 6.5 pound blast fragmentation/ shaped charge warhead traveling at about Mach 1.5.
LMM’s initial beam-riding guidance choice allows technology re-use from the Starstreak, and makes countermeasures more difficult, but it also means that an in-flight missile can be traced to its origin much more easily. Against light naval targets like fixed installations or fast boats, that’s seen as an acceptable trade-off, though the requirement for continuous guidance limits the launching helicopter’s ability to deal with swarm attacks. The missile can also be used against other helicopters and UAVs, and is believed to have enough punch to kill light armored vehicles – though other forms of guidance like semi-active laser, imaging infrared, or millimeter wave radar are better choices against those kinds of targets.
LMM’s modular design will reportedly allow other guidance types to be swapped in later. A planned semi-active laser guidance variant would hit any target “painted” by a qualified laser, with much more freedom in terms of chosen flight paths. The question is how soon they’d be available. Production of the beam-riding LMMs is due to start in 2012, with initial deliveries expected in 2013, at an initial cost target reported to be around 50-60% of the Starstreak. The LMM’s planned in-service date is around 2015, the same time as the AW159 Wildcat.
A smaller and lighter FF-LMM variant was unveiled at Farnborough 2014, for use aboard platforms down to tactical UAV size.
LMM’s market positioning sits below larger missiles like the AGM-114 Hellfire, or MBDA’s Brimstone, which will force it into de facto competition with a growing roster of guided 70mm rockets. Graphics show helicopter carriage of 5-7 missiles per pylon, with 5 missiles now confirmed as the AW159’s configuration. In contrast, an M299 pylon can carry 4 Hellfire missiles, or 2 Hellfires and up to 8 DAGR laser-guided 70mm rockets. For guided rockets like APKWS-II, a 7-shot launcher is standard.
On the other hand, the LMM’s small size can become an advantage. Photos also show the LMM mounted one per side on small UAVs, however, like the S-100 Camcopter helicopter UAV.
Depending on decisions between now and then, LMM missiles may also end up as an equipment option for other naval helicopters, from earlier model Lynx helicopters to Britain’s larger AW101 Merlin naval helicopters. Integration with UAVs, and with other helicopter types like the WAH-64/AH1 Apache offers additional possibilities for Britain, but that may depend on the introduction of new guidance options. Thales will be pursuing export options for LMM, and the firm claims to have attracted some interest already.
FASGW-Light and its FASGW-Heavy counterpart are elements of the UK’s Team Complex Weapons program, which arose out of its Defence Industrial Strategy’s determination to keep missile design expertise within the UK. The net effect of that strategy was to shut Raytheon out of a number of future UK missile developments, in favor of Thales and MBDA.
Contracts & Key Events
Oct 9/14: Type 26. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon writes in answer to a question from the House of Commons that light LMMs mounted on Wildcats aboard T26 GCS will be called “Martlet”. Source: MoD/House of Commons [PDF].
July 17/14: AW159 integration. AgustaWestland signs a EUR 113 million (about GBP 89.3M / $153.1M) contract with the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) to integrate, test, and install ANL anti-ship missile and LMM light strike missile system compatibility onto 28 Royal Navy AW159 Wildcat HMA2 helicopters.
Note that the UK MoD has also signed a EUR 60.2 million contract with LMM missile maker Thales regarding broader integration of their missile onto the Wildcat fleet (q.v. June 16/14). Sources: Finmeccanica, “Finmeccanica – AgustaWestland signed a contract worth EUR 113 million with the UK Ministry of Defence”.
July 13/14: FF-LMM. Thales unveils an unpowered version of LMM at Farnborough 2014, as a smaller and lighter option for use on tactical UAVs, as well as larger platforms. It’s 70cm / 2’4″ long and 6 kg / 13 pounds in weight, with a combined GPS and laser guidance system. The initial model won’t have an airburst fuze, though. Sources: IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, “Farnborough 2014: Thales unveils new LMM variant” | Aviation Week, “Thales Reveals 6-Kg Glide Bomb For UAVs”.
June 16/14: AW159 integration. The UK Ministry of Defence awards Thales a GBP 48 million (EUR 60.2 M / $81.5 M) contract, covering LMM’s final development, qualification and integration on the Army and Navy’s AW159 Wildcat helicopters, and deployable test equipment. The chosen configuration involves a 5-missile launcher on each AW159 hardpoint, instead of the 7-missile launchers shown in earlier mock-ups.
Ordering 1,000 missiles (q.v. April 6/11) is great, but they don’t become useful until they have a carrying platform, and this is their 1st. What the releases don’t say is when they expect integration to be done. Previous announcements have pegged LMM integration to the AW159 HMA Mk.2’s in-service date, in 2015. Sources: UK MoD, “£48 million jobs boost for Belfast” | Thales, “MOD Minister announces FASGW(L) contract for Thales”.
AW159 integration contract
May 7/13: RWS option. Navy Recognition reports from the IDEF 2013 defense exhibition in Istanbul, Turkey where Turkey’s Aselsan and Thales UK are showcasing “The Aselsan Missile Launching System (MLS)” – a gyro-stabilized Remote-controlled Weapon System (RWS) with 8 LMM missiles.
The RWS is described as “a customized compact and lightweight solution for Fast Interceptor Crafts,” and is also touted as a defensive option for oil rigs, seaports, and naval bases.
June 11/12: Sub-contractors. United Technologies Goodrich Corp. announces a production order for “more than 1,000” of its SiIMU02(R) inertial measurement units (IMU) from Thales in Belfast, for use as the standard inertial sensor on Thales’ new LMM. By measuring distance traveled from the launching platform in 3 dimensions, an IMU gives a weapon an independent, unjammable assessment of where it is in space. That’s very useful as a back-up guidance system.
The production order follows successful reliability and performance trials of the SiIMU02, which uses the latest in micro electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) technology to be more reliable, more rugged, and much smaller than conventional IMUs. Deliveries will begin in late 2013 from Goodrich’s Sensors and Integrated Systems team in Plymouth, UK.
April 6/11: Thales received an initial contract for 1,000 Lightweight Multi-role Missiles (LMM), via undisclosed funding re-routed from other projects. Thales UK and Thales Group follow-on | Flight International | Shephard Group | UPI.
Launch contract: 1,000 missiles
* UK MoD – Team Complex Weapons.
* MBDA – Team Complex Weapons. Also includes Thales, Qinetiq, and Roxel.
* Defense Update – Navy Lynx Grows New Claws: Future Air-to-Surface Guided Weapon (FASGW).
* Aviation Week (Aug 6/09) – New Thales Missiles: Capability and Economy.
* UK MoD (July 15/08) – MOD launches a new approach to acquiring Complex Weapons.
* Flight International (June 2/08) – Thales reveals new lightweight missile for UAVs, helicopters.
Competition and Complementors
* DID – Guided Air-Ground Rockets: Program Halts & New Entries. Details various laser-guided rocket project projects around the globe.
* DID – Reap the Whirlwind: Russia Buys Anti-Tank Missiles & Bails Out Kalashnikov. Vikhr = “whirlwind” in Russian. Its operating concept is very similar to LMM’s.
* DID – Raytheon’s Griffin Mini-Missiles.