Hydra-70 Rockets: From Cutbacks to the Future of Warfare

ORD_Hydra-70_Rocket_Family.jpg

Hydra family

September 18/18: Hail Hydra! The armed forces of Afghanistan, Nigeria and Lebanon are set to receive unguided rockets as part of a US FMS. General Dynamics – OTS, will be responsible to procure an unspecified number of Hydra rockets at a cost of $44.3 million. Hydra-70 is a family of unguided rockets offering a variety of warhead configurations. These versatile and relatively inexpensive rockets can be fired from a variety of aircraft, from attack helicopters to jet fighters to light helicopters, and are arguably the world’s most widely used helicopter-launched weapon system. This contract modification also includes FMS to Australia and the Philippines. Work will be perfumed at GD’s facility in Williston, Vermont, with an estimated completion date of March 2021.

For more on this and other stories, please consider purchasing a membership.
If you are already a subscriber, login to your account.
(click to view larger) Hydra-70 is a family of unguided rockets offering a variety of warhead configurations, from smoke and illumination rounds, to flechettes (hundreds of anti-personnel darts), submunition carriers, and unitary warheads up to 317 pounds. These versatile and relatively inexpensive rockets can be fired from a variety of aircraft, from attack helicopters to jet fighters to light helicopters. Hydra-70s have seen use in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they are arguably the world’s most widely used helicopter-launched weapon system. While 70mm Hydra rockets are low cost weapons, and easy to carry in numbers, they’re not very accurate. This makes them problematic choices for urban warfare if limitations exist on the use of force, and sharply limits their value to platforms like UAVs. The US Army intended to scale back production of the rocket system in 2003, but Congress, led by Senator Leahy [D-VT], reversed the decision with a $900 million contract. Production continues to this day, even as technology developments promise to make Hydra rockets a multi-headed battlefield threat once again. Leahy’s Leverage AV-8s fire Hydras (click to view full) Leahy [D-VT] is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and of its Defense Subcommittee, which handles the […]

Hydra-70 rocket collage

(click to view larger)

Hydra-70 is a family of unguided rockets offering a variety of warhead configurations, from smoke and illumination rounds, to flechettes (hundreds of anti-personnel darts), submunition carriers, and unitary warheads up to 317 pounds. These versatile and relatively inexpensive rockets can be fired from a variety of aircraft, from attack helicopters to jet fighters to light helicopters. Hydra-70s have seen use in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they are arguably the world’s most widely used helicopter-launched weapon system.

While 70mm Hydra rockets are low cost weapons, and easy to carry in numbers, they’re not very accurate. This makes them problematic choices for urban warfare if limitations exist on the use of force, and sharply limits their value to platforms like UAVs. The US Army intended to scale back production of the rocket system in 2003, but Congress, led by Senator Leahy [D-VT], reversed the decision with a $900 million contract. Production continues to this day, even as technology developments promise to make Hydra rockets a multi-headed battlefield threat once again.

Leahy’s Leverage

AV-8s firing Hydras

AV-8s fire Hydras
(click to view full)

Leahy [D-VT] is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and of its Defense Subcommittee, which handles the Senate’s work in writing the annual Defense Department budget bill – a bill that includes the Army’s budget. As a result, funds for FY 2005 through 2009 will be allocated to continuing Hydra production. The $900 million contract, which calls for the production and servicing of the widely used Hydra-70 rocket, is set to run until March of 2011.

Part of the rationale for scaling back Hydra production had been the increased importance of precision strike weapons, especially in urban conflicts and against the sort of targets that often present themselves in the Global War on Terror.

In the end, however, Leahy may wind up being right on the merits, as well as being right there for his district, thanks the rapid arrival of precision strike rockets in the global defense market. A 2010-2014 contract has continued production of the base rockets.

Abroad, Magellan’s 70mm CRV-7 rockets and Thales’ 68mm SNEB system are Hydra’s main Western competitors, while countries using Russian equipment have a variety of choices that begin with the 57mm S-5 family, extending through the 80mm S-8 family, and continuing up to the 266mm S-25.

Hydra Rockets: Contracts

FY 2018

New multi-year deal; New flechette rocket.

Hydra-70 Rocket Family

Hydra family

Unless otherwise indicated, General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products (GD-ATP) is the contractor producing the Hydra-70 family, and the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command Contracting Center in Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contracts.

September 18/18: Hail Hydra! The armed forces of Afghanistan, Nigeria and Lebanon are set to receive unguided rockets as part of a US FMS. General Dynamics – OTS, will be responsible to procure an unspecified number of Hydra rockets at a cost of $44.3 million. Hydra-70 is a family of unguided rockets offering a variety of warhead configurations. These versatile and relatively inexpensive rockets can be fired from a variety of aircraft, from attack helicopters to jet fighters to light helicopters, and are arguably the world’s most widely used helicopter-launched weapon system. This contract modification also includes FMS to Australia and the Philippines. Work will be perfumed at GD’s facility in Williston, Vermont, with an estimated completion date of March 2021.

FY 2010 – 2015

Dec 15/14: GD-ATP in Williston, VT receives a $72 million modification (P00002) to existing Foreign Military Sales contract W31P4Q-14-C-0154 to exercise a fiscal 2015 option for the FY 2014-2018 Hydra-70 Rocket System which includes M151 high explosive rockets, M274 smoke signal practice rockets, M229 high explosive rockets, MK66 MOD 4 motors (Air Force and Navy) and WTU-1/B practice warheads. FY 2013 and 2014 other procurement funds in the amount of $59 million were obligated at the time of the award. Estimated completion date is Sept. 30, 2016. Work will be performed in Williston, VT, and Camden, AZ.

Sept 29/14: GD-ATP in Williston, VT receives an $18.8 million contract modification, exercising a FY 2014 option which includes Hydra-70 M151 high explosive rockets, M255A1 flechette anti-personnel rockets, and M274 smoke signal practice rockets. $4 million in FY 2014 US Army budgets are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Williston, VT, and Camden, AR, under a contract that ends on Sept 28/19 (W31P4Q-14-C-0154 PO 0001).

Sept 15/14: Multi-year buy. General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems (GD-OTS) in Williston, VT wins a $58 million firm-fixed-price contract, with options, for Hydra-70 rocket buys from FY 2014 through FY 2018. It includes rockets, warheads, motors and containers, and all funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Williston, VT (71%), and Camden, AR (29%), with an estimated completion date of Sept 30/20. Bids were solicited via the Internet, with 2 received (W31P4Q-14-C-0154).

FY 2014 – 2018 contract

Sept 11/13: An $18.7 million modification to a firm-fixed-price, multi-year contract exercises an option “to reduce hardware unit price for the Hydra rockets, motors and practice warheads in accordance with contract terms and conditions”. Presumably, this unit price reduction involves additional industrial infrastructure, and the business case made sense.

Work will be performed in Williston, VT and Camden, AK, with funding from FY 2012 through 2014 “other authorizations” budgets (W31P4Q-10-C-0190, PO 0147).

Aug 17/13: FY 2013. General Dynamics announces a $67.5 million contract modification for Hydra-70 air-to-ground rockets, with deliveries expected to be complete by the end of 2015. This contract is a modification to a previously awarded contract, and the firm says that its cumulative value has risen from $991 million to “more than $1 billion.” We do wonder about that math. Sources: Pentagon | General Dynamics, Aug 17/13 release.

June 15/11: FY 2011. A $286 million cost-plus contract, as the FY 2011 option exercise for Hydra-70 production. Work will be performed in Burlington, VT, and Camden, AZ, with an estimated completion date of Sept 30/15. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W31P4Q-11-C-0190… we think they meant W31P4Q-10-C-0190).

April 28/11: Sub-contractors. ATK announces an $80 million order from General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products for production of the Hydra Mk66 rocket motor’s MK90 propellant grain.

ATK manufactures the MK90 propellant grain using a unique rolling method and extrusion process, which aims to assure a low-cost solution that’s still safe and dependable. The grain incorporates a minimum smoke, double-base, low-signature formulation, and is used in all Hydra 70 rockets.

July 6/10: FY 2010. A $136.6 million firm-fixed-price contract for FY 2010 production of HYDRA-70 rockets. Work will be performed in Burlington, VT (71%), and Camden, AR (29%), with an estimated completion date of Sept 30/15. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W31P4Q-10-C-0190).

GD ATP representatives have confirmed to DID that this award is cumulative with the May 2010 announcement. As the contract number indicates, this is the successor to the 2005-2009 deal. The Huntsville Times reports that the June 30/10 signing date behind this announcement marked the beginning of a new 4-year, $991.7 million production contract with General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products. It adds:

“The Army’s requirements for Hydra-70 rockets can vary annually. “We bought 399,904 items in FY ’10, which is $278 million (the fiscal 2010 procurement),” Brad Schroer, the Hydra-70 production lead in JAMS Project Office, said. “Items are all up rounds, warhead and motors.”

May 24/10: FY 2010. A $139 million firm-fixed-price contract to support US Army, Air Force and Navy requirements for FY 2010 production of HYDRA-70 rockets. Work will be performed in Burlington, VT, with an estimated completion date of Oct 31/12. One sole-source bid was solicited, with one bid received (W31P4Q-10-C-0190).

FY 2010 – 2014 multi-year deal

Jan 7/10: US Navy NAVAIR announces a new Hydra warhead: The Mk 149 MOD 0 flechette warhead, which packs a load of deadly darts that will shred through light cover and vegetation. Stocks of older warheads dated from the Vietnam era, were nearly gone, and were becoming unreliable, so engineers from PMA-242, the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Indian Head division, and General Dynamics got together to create a new warhead. The individual flechettes are about 3 times the size of the older ones, and have grown to about the size of a 5.56mm bullet. This gives them better penetrating power, while retaining flechettes’ wider area coverage compared to high explosive rockets. The flechettes themselves are just pieces of metal, which removes concerns about future hazards or chemical contamination after they’re fired.

The new Mk 149 MOD 0 rockets will be used by the US Marines’ AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters, and by its UH-1N/Y Huey utility helicopters in theater. They’re seen as a likely weapon of choice against troops in the open or like targets, and PMA-242 Program Manager Capt. Brian Corey says that “Reports from Afghanistan indicate that the new warhead is a major improvement over the previous version and right on the mark for today’s fight.” US Navy NAVAIR.

New flechette warhead

FY 2005 – 2009

Multi-year contract.

MQ-8A fires Hydra

UAVs, too: MQ-8A
(click to view full)

May 1/09: FY 2009. GD-ATP announces a $150 million order to produce Hydra-70 rockets, warheads and motors, under the 5-year contract signed in 2005. Deliveries are expected to begin in September 2010.

System engineering and program management will be performed at General Dynamics’ Burlington Technology Center in Vermont. Final assembly and component sub-assembly will occur at the company’s Camden, AK, facility, which has produced the Hydra-70 rocket for more than 12 years. This is the last year in the multi-year buy, and the firm has stopped releasing totals, but the reported number as of FY 2007’s buy, plus the last 2 years, would total around $820 million of the $900 million limit.

March 24/08: FY 2008. GD-ATP announces that the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command has awarded them a $166.4 million contract for Hydra-70 rockets, as part of part of the 5-year contract signed in 2005.

April 10/07: FY 2007. GD-ATP announces 2 orders totaling $149 million for the production of 2.75-inch Hydra-70 rockets. The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL ordered the rockets as part of a multi-year contract. According to the firm, orders to date under this contract now total $502 million.

System engineering and program management will be performed at General Dynamics’ Burlington Technology Center in Vermont. Final assembly and component sub-assembly will occur at General Dynamics’ Camden, AR facility.

April 4/06: FY 2006. GD-ATP announces a $165 million delivery order from the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL for 2.75-inch Hydra-70 rockets, motors and warheads. System engineering and program management will be performed by existing employees at General Dynamics’ Burlington Technology Center in Vermont (70%). Final assembly and component sub-assembly will occur at General Dynamics’ Camden, AR facility (30%). This order is part of a 5-year requirements contract awarded in April 2005, and brings its total awarded value to date to $336 million.

June 23/05: General Dynamics announces a $17.8 million delivery order from the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL for Hydra-70 rockets and warheads. This is an order under the multi-year deal, and orders to date under this contract total $154 million.

System engineering and program management will be performed at General Dynamics’ Burlington Technology Center in Vermont. Final assembly and component sub-assembly will occur at General Dynamics’ Camden, AR facility.

May 26/05: GD-ATP announces a $129 million delivery order from the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL for Hydra-70 rockets and warheads. This order was awarded under the 5-year requirements contract, which now has a stated potential value of $900 million.

System engineering and program management will be performed at General Dynamics’ Burlington Technology Center in Vermont. Final assembly and component sub-assembly will occur at General Dynamics’ Camden, AR facility.

May 5/05: General Dynamics announces a 5-year indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity contract with an estimated value of $900 million from the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL for the production of 2.75-inch Hydra-70 rockets, motors and warheads. Later reports place the contract signing date at April 28/05.

System engineering and program management will be performed at General Dynamics’ Burlington Technology Center in Vermont. Final assembly and component sub-assembly will occur at General Dynamics’ Camden, AR facility.

2005 – 2009 multi-year buy

Hydra Precision: APKWS etc.

APKWS Diagram Labeled

APKWS
(click to view full)

After some false starts, postponements for budgetary reasons, and disappointing test results, the US Army has finally entered the selection and system design/development (SDD) phase for the APKWS II (Advanced Precision-Kill Weapons System).

APKWS aims to turn unguided rockets into precision weapons by adding relatively inexpensive laser seekers and guidance systems to Hydra-70 rockets and rocket motors. The result, dubbed “Hellfire Jr.” by some, could arguably turn precision Hydra variants into the air-launched weapon of choice for the US Army and many other militaries, while greatly multiplying the number of platforms with precision-kill capabilities.

If APKWS meets its goals, these rockets have the potential to vastly increase the number of precision weapons carried by helicopters, aircraft, and even UAVs. Precision Hydra weapons also have the capacity for high-explosive and even thermobaric warheads that can kill personnel, destroy most armored personnel carriers and lighter vehicles, and even collapse buildings if the Marines’ SMAW experiences in Fallujah are any indication.

The ability to vastly expand the varieties of aircraft, helicopters, and UAVs carrying precision weapons and the number of weapons per platform, all in a package that is good enough for most targets and offers both more warhead flexibility and reduced collateral damage, is a pretty significant combination. The more expensive Hellfire IIs would then be reserved for attacks on tanks, strikes on larger or more heavily fortified structures, and longer-range “sniping” in high-threat situations.

Designation Systems notes that the APKWS program actually began in 1996, when a guided development of the Hydra-70 also known as LCPK (Low Cost Precision Kill) was selected. The idea was that it would use the MK 66 rocket motor with a new warhead/guidance section assembly, and would therefore be instantly compatible with all existing 70 mm rocket launchers in the U.S. inventory. Fielding was planned for 2001-2002, but significant delays due to lack of funding ended up postponing this date several times. In September 2002, the APKWS program was expanded to cover all unguided rockets of the Hydra 70 family.

General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products (ATP) awarded BAE Systems a $26.7 million contract for the development and demonstration of the Block 1 guidance section back on April 10, 2003. Unfortunately, the US Army eventually canceled the General Dynamics guided APKWS program in April 2005 because of poor test results.

Hence the label APKWS II for the restarted competition, which offered the competitors more freedom by reducing the number of requirements. Broadly speaking, APKWS II narrowed the focus to the specified performance criteria with a system based on the Hydra-70.

On September 29, 2005, BAE Systems announced it would bid on APKWS II as a prime contractor, along with Northrop Grumman Corp. and General Dynamics. They joined other consortia already in the APKWS II competition, led by Lockheed and Raytheon.

In the end, BAE’s team won. Funding for the APKWS II was zeroed out of the FY 2008 budget, but the Navy stepped in with funding, and the program continues.

ORD_Hydra-70_and_Hellfires.jpg

Hydras & Hellfires
(click to view full)

The future of Hydra rockets as a precision weapon is even more certain, thanks to the efforts of BAE’s competitors. Lockheed Martin’s DAGR was fully developed with private funds, and is 100% compatible with all Hellfire missile platforms and launchers. A 4-pack of DAGR missiles can be fitted to any Hellfire launcher missile slot, without modification.

Beyond Lockheed, the guided rocket field is growing quickly, with programs involving the USA and South Korea (70mm LOGIR, uses IIR), Raytheon and the UAE (70mm), Israel’s Elbit and ATK (70mm GATR-L), Canada and Norway (70mm CRV-7-PG, based on CRV-7 rocket and with several guidance options), France (68mm, SNEB-based), Russia (‘Ugroza’, options from 57mm – 122mm), and more.

Additional Readings:

* DID Spotlight Article – Guided Hydra Rockets: Program Halts & New Entries. Covers other competitors, from Lockheed Martin’s DAGR, to separate development partnerships involving Canada, Israel, Korea, and the UAE, to efforts in Russia.

* DID FOCUS Article – APKWS II “Hellfire Jr.” Hydra Rockets Enter SDD Phase. Focuses on the APKWS II laser-guided rocket, won by BAE Systems & Northrop Grumman.

* GD-OTS – Hydra-70 – 2.75-inch (70mm) Family of Rockets.

* GlobalSecurity.org – Hydra-70 Rocket System.

* Aeronautics.RU (December 1999) – Unguided rockets get guidance [dead link]. Mentions SYROCOT and Ugroza.

* US Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT, May 5/05) – Army Awards $900 Million Contract To Burlington’s General Dynamics. . . Leahy Instrumental In Securing Funds

One Source: Hundreds of programs; Thousands of links, photos, and analyses

DII brings a complete collection of articles with original reporting and research, and expert analyses of events to your desktop – no need for multiple modules, or complex subscriptions. All supporting documents, links, & appendices accompany each article.

Benefits

  • Save time
  • Eliminate your blind spots
  • Get the big picture, quickly
  • Keep up with the important facts
  • Stay on top of your projects or your competitors

Features

  • Coverage of procurement and doctrine issues
  • Timeline of past and future program events
  • Comprehensive links to other useful resources