Friday, March 22, 2013

ALAS: the Missile Cometh

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The usefulness of over the horizon light precision strike weapons is becoming clear to navies, recently became clear to land forces, and was always clear to air forces. Serbia’s Yugoimport has been working on an “Advanced Light Attack System” missile that builds on their rocket and turbojet expertise, but they needed a financial backer to develop their low-cost solution. In 2013, an agreement with the UAE’s EAI secured that backing, in exchange for joint development.
The missile is an interesting product definition case, which seems to aim at a low-cost, non-western niche in the naval and helicopter markets. At sea, it could be a strong step forward to address an emerging requirement for all navies.

ALAS: Positioning Without Regrets

ALAS is a 55 kg, turbojet powered, camera-guided missile that uses inertial guidance along a pre-programmed flight path around or over obstructing terrain, with a link back to an operator for target identification, selection, and guidance. The camera can be either TV or infrared, but must be pre-loaded in advance. Guidance is expected to use fiber optic cable, with an option for an encrypted radio link. Carrying platforms are expected to be land vehicles, ships, and sometimes naval helicopters.
Power is provided by a rocket booster motor and EDePro’s TMM-040 “Mongoose” turbojet, pushing the missile to a sub-sonic top speed of around 340-400 mph/ 640-740 kmh. Range is expected to be around 25 km/ 13.5 miles, with a possible boost to 60 km/ 32.4 miles.
Note the tradeoffs here. Simple turbojet engine for middling speed, range likewise middling and about the same as RAFAEL’s rocket-powered Spike NLOS. Command guidance is less accurate and more subject to interference, and may rely on a physical link. Guidance optics for day or night, but not both. Fast jets not mentioned as an option in EDePro’s January 2013 specifications document. Every one of these choices creates a cheaper weapon, in exchange for performance trade-offs and simplicity of manufacturing.
Which leads one to ask: so what?
The 2006 war in Lebanon saw 1960s-era AT-2/3 wire-guided missiles used as precision artillery by Iran’s Hezbollah legions, and similar employment of Spike and other weapons by Israeli soldiers. With the possible exception of day/night guidance, none of these tradeoffs is a problem in that situation.
A ship firing ALAS against small swarming targets would have operator overload issues and would pine for imaging infrared guidance options; but a boat or ship that wanted to use the missile against a target on land, or a single target at sea, could do so.
A helicopter that wanted a light anti-ship missile would be unable to use launch and leave tactics, but it could certainly stay outside the firing range of the very short range missiles mounted on boats smaller than corvettes. On land, the extended reach keeps the helicopter outside the range of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons, and most guns.
In many situations, and in many threat environments around the world, this combination would be less-than-ideal – but good enough. More to the point, it has the potential to be very affordable. That’s good for customers with small budgets, and also good for customers who want to mount ALAS on a number of different platforms. If it can be coupled with a good, compact launch system, ALAS has potential in the global naval market, as well as on land.

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