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Commandos Buying Thousands of Small Missiles That Pack A Bigger Punch Than Hellfires
As counterterrorism missions show no signs of slowing down and civilian casualties always a worry, the commando command is turning to a light, guided munition to chase down fast-moving targets.
A lightweight glide missile, smaller and more powerful than a Hellfire and fired from a C-130 gunship tens of thousands of feet above the battlefield, is about to start heading to the force by the thousands, according to SOCOM documents about an upcoming contract award.
SOCOM purchased several dozen Small Glide Munitions from Dynetics, a small firm in Huntsville in 2017. The SGM appears to have proven its value to commando leaders who are readying a contract for about 4,000 more of the 59-lb munition over the next four years.
The SGM can travel more than 20 miles and slam into targets moving up to 70 mph with its 36-lb. warhead, which is not only more powerful than a Hellfire, but clocks in at almost half the weight of the iconic 100-lb. munition.
The company was able to pack that punch into a lighter tube thanks partly to the fact that the SGM is unpowered, and uses wings that unfold after launch to glide to its target. A company official told me that the weapon was designed to be modular so the munition could fit on a variety of platforms, and components can be swapped out.
In a contract expected to be award in July, SOCOM is expected to buy 700 SGMs in 2018 and 2019, with 900 more in 2020. That number rises to 1,000 per year in 2021 and 2022.
Despite the renewed focus on great power competition spelled out in the Pentagon’s recent National Defense Strategy, and the White House’s National Security Strategy, there’s little indication American special operators troops will peel away from long-term counterterrorism missions in the Middle East, Yemen, Eastern Africa and Libya.
A Dynetics official told me that the SGMs semi-active laser guided munition uses lattice control fins for stability and control, taking a page from the work the company did on the Massive Ordnance Air Blast munition — the infamous MOAB — and the Massive Ordnance Penetrator
SOCOM had used several other munitions to fill the requirement for a lightweight munition, but decided that none really fit the bill. The command initially considered Raytheon’s Griffin, Northrop Grumman’s Viper Strike, Textron’s G-CLAW, and Dynetics’ SGM. But according to the justification document,
the command “phased the Viper Strike out of the inventory due to failure to achieve lethality performance, and high cost to redesign to meet mission requirements.”
The G-CLAW “is 2-3 years behind the SGM in maturity and experienced failures in its first flight test with a seeker,” and
the Griffin “does not address the required aspects of the 360 degree employment zone, launch signature, and support engagement scenarios in which attack azimuth and impact angle must be precisely controlled. At this time, there is no viable alternative to the SGM.”
Viper Strike was developed IIRC from the BAT (Brilliant Anti Tank) submunition for the MRLS and 155s in the Reagan era but was never fielded. It was pressed into service during the current spat of Co-In wars.
Griffin seems to have been intended as a low cost Joint alternative to Hellfire that was to be a principal weapon for the LCS and has been deployed on the AC-130.
Apparently the new glide munition is also compatible with rotary wing platforms.