‘Fire-and-forget’ LCITS technology to combat small swarming boat attacks


May 15, 2011

Test firing of an LCITS rocket from an AH-1 Cobra helicopter

Test firing of an LCITS rocket from an AH-1 Cobra helicopter

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At the 63rd annual Naval Helicopter Association (NHA) Symposium in San Diego last week the Office of Naval Research (ONR) unveiled a new weapons technology designed to give helicopters, such as the MH-60 and the AH-1 Cobra, the ability to combat the threat of a small boat swarm. The Low-Cost Imaging Terminal Seeker (LCITS) system equips existing unguided Hydra-70, 2.75-inch rockets with a low-cost guidance capability that allows pilots to essentially "fire-and-forget," thereby allowing them to engage multiple, fast attack seaborne targets in a shorter period.

Unlike laser-designated weapons, the LCITS system provides pilots with the ability to respond faster to threats by relieving them of the responsibility of guiding the weapon to the target while it is in flight. The system comprises three main components; the algorithms that calculate targeting and transfer alignment data; a digital smart launcher that transmits targeting data to the weapon; and the LCITS weapon itself.

Once the target is designated by the helicopter's forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensor, targeting data including position, size, velocity and contrast are passed through the digital smart launcher to the guided rocket. The rocket then calculates an inertial guidance point and flies to where it will acquire the target with its imaging infrared seeker. This is not a hot-spot detector but a low-cost focal plane array that feeds an image to on-board algorithms that separate the target from the background. The infrared seeker then guides the rocket to hone in on the center of the target.

The ONR says the LCITS system will potentially reduce the target engagement timeline to less than 15 seconds, thereby allowing pilots to increase the number of targets they can engage within a short period of time. This will give naval forces a cost effective tactical advantage over small swarming boats and allow them to be engaged before they can get close to their target.

"The LCITs program is considered 'low cost' because it is an augmentation or upgrade to a pre-existing 2.75-inch rocket system," said Michael Deitchman, director of ONR's Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department. "Instead of relying on costly parts, sensors and guidance systems, it relies on the aircraft systems to provide the targeting information."

The system is the result of a collaborative effort between the ONR and partners including South Korea, DARPA, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Navy International Program Office.

A final demonstration of the LCITS technology took place on May 1, 2010, when an LCITS rocket fired from an AH-1 Cobra helicopter scored a direct hit on a moving maritime target that represented a small boat threat. The technology is now undergoing further testing as part of the Medusa Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD), with the goal of integrating the rocket onto the MH-60 aircraft platform.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

How many rocket propelled grenades can a batch of pirates in little boats fire at the helicopter in those 15 seconds? That\'s what they did in Somalia, using the Mark One Eyeball fire and forget system and Point Up And Pull The Trigger system.

Gregg Eshelman

This seems an excellent idea, much more cost effective and perhaps even more practically effective than using a hellfire (AGM-114) on the same target. @Gregg, while your point is taken, it seems this would give helicopters the ability to accurately engage from quite a bit farther away than the distances used by Somalis against our helicopters, and cheaply enough that they might actually have them on board when they are needed, unlike they (much more) expensive hellfires. It is a completely different thing when a helicopter can maneuver to engage a threat as opposed to being stuck in a hover in broad daylight unable to move because troops are on the rope.

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