Some folks at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD), a.k.a. NAVAIR Weapons Division (China Lake, CA), are currently developing a "man-packable, shoulder-launched guided missile" system for U.S. infantry warfighters called SPIKE. The developmental system is essentially a low-cost, compact, and lightweight man-portable shoulder-fired fire-and-forget missile system that incorporates three separate guidance modes–inertial, laser, and imaging electro-optical–into its targeting system to lock onto the target and ensure kills against moving targets on the ground and in the air out to a range of approx. two miles.
DefenseReview found out about SPIKE at SHOT Show 2006 in February (2006). Steve Felix, one of the engineers on the project, was walking around the show for some reason, ran into a member of our team, and handed him the SPIKE fact sheet (pictured). When we subsequently interviewed Mr. Felix in March (2006), he informed us that the impetus for the project was to give our infantry warfighters an…
affordable, easily carried shoulder-fired guided fire-and-forget missile system that would allow them to take out the kinds of ground vehicles that terrorists/insurgents in Iraq are currently using (relatively fast-moving civilian cars and trucks), without breaking the bank, and without it being too heavy to carry. According to Felix, "up until now, people have only done guided weapons to kill tanks and bigger." He added, What we’re trying to do is bring guided missile technology down to the grunt on the ground. Turns out that a lot of targets, especially moving targets, are very hard to hit. And, so, we were gonna’ give ‘em a guided missile that let ‘em reach out and hit these guys that were giving them a problem, as stated in some of their fleet battle expleriments, and do it for a factor-of-ten less cost and a factor-of-five less weight. Guided missiles, historically, were too heavy and too explensive to be used in really large numbers. Whatever you give the infantry, it needs to be available in large numbers."
That’s where SPIKE comes in. At at a projected cost of $10,000 per unit ($5K for the missile, $5K for the re-usable launcher), an OA weight of 10 lbs (missile + launcher), and is relatively compact. The $10K projected initial buy-in/per-unit cost and $5,000-per-shot cost means that the U.S. military should be able to afford/purchase the system in large numbers, especially since the $5K launcher is reusable. NAVAIR Weapons Division claims that because of its compact size and light weight, a Marine can carry three SPIKE systems in his backpack. While Felix acknowledges that "you still need the silver bullet [Javelin anti-armor weapon system, etc.] for the big boys", i.e. main battle tanks (MBT), he points out that those systems are overkill for the most common vehicle-born threats that our warfighters currently face in the battlespace. "Our [SPIKE team] point is that we should have something else so that you can do the same kind of thing against the vehicles that the terrorists have," Felix said. These vehicle-borne IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices)/shooting platforms are "harder than all get-out to hit, ’cause they’re really bookin’. I mean, they’re not like military vehicles that drive 30 miles an hour. They’re doin’ 75 miles and hour. And they’re jinkin’, and they’re hard to hit. Well, you could use a Javelin on ‘em, but, ya’ know, they’ll bankrupt us if we keep shootin’ at those cars and trucks with Javelins," Felix added.
That’s because the Javelin anti-tank missile system, developed by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control specifically to take out heavily-armored main battle tanks (MBT), is expensive with a reported cost over $200,000 and OA weight of 49.06 lbs for the combined missile/launcher system. Fortunately, the launcher is reusable, but the missiles, obviously, are not, and they cost $100,000+ apiece. That’s o.k., of course, because the main battle tanks that Javelin was designed and developed to destroy are far more expensive than that, so the use of the Javelin system on those targets is an acceptable financial transaction, especially since you’re only paying for the missiles/projectiles for each subsequent tank kill. But the Javelin’s destructive power and $200,000+ per-unit buy-in and $100,000+ per-shot cost is severe overkill for the relatively inexpensive and very plentiful civilian/light-skinned vehicles terrorists/insurgents are using as vehicle-born IEDs and shooting platforms. SPIKE, at $5,000 per shot (i.e. per missile), is a much more economical way to go for neutralizing these targets, and it can also destroy light-armored vehicles.
With SPIKE, a warfighter will reportedly also be able to destroy/neutralize low-flying, slow-moving aircraft like helicopters, for example. "I can hit a target if it has a 60 mile-an-hour crossing velocity or less, and if it’s pulling less than two G’s. What that really doesn’t say is that the vehicle can be moving somewhat faster. It just can’t have a big crossing velocity. Which means I can hit most helos," Felix said. And prop planes, provided they’re low and slow enough. General aviation kinds of things. That terrorist in his Cessna 150, if he’s comin down. I can’t go up after ‘em. If they want to fly at 14,000 feet, you need something else," Felix said.
Anyway, when DefenseReview asked Felix what "inertial" meant, referring to one of SPIKE’s three targeting modes, Felix replied "It means that if I get surprised, I’ll just bring this thing up, point at the target, count one second off, and pull the trigger, and the electronics–even though they haven’t locked on a target–will cause this thing to fly as straight as it absolutely can. So I will be able to hit trucks and jeep-size targets out to about 200 meters." The ability to "snap-shoot" and immediately destroy fast inbound insurgent/terrorist vehicles is a particularly important capability for U.S. infantry warfighters to have, since their lives depend on it. This type of threat is common in Iraq, at present.
During our interview, DefenseReview recommended that the Felix and his team develop a thermobaric warhead for SPIKE similar in profile/capability to Talley Defense Systems‘ thermobaric version of their M72 LAW (Light Anti-Tank Weapon), and Felix agreed that it’s worth exploring. Thermobarics (thermobaric weapons) can have a profound psychological impact on the enemy. Human beings have a natural, innate fear of fire and burning alive. While a targeted individual in an enclosed target space is perhaps more likely to die or at least be rendered unconcious by the blast-caused overpressure and lack of oxygen (after the available oxygen is consumed by the fireball) before burning to death, it’s still a pretty scary proposition.
DefRev also mentioned the idea of attaching SPIKEs to weaponized UGVs (Unmanned Ground Vehicles) and UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles). With regard to a UCAV platform, SPIKE would appear to be ideally suited for an unmanned rotorcraft (unmanned helicopter) platform. Neural Robotics, Inc. (NRI), developer of the AutoCopter Gunship semi-autonomous unmanned helicopter, is currently developing a larger umanned helo that can carry a lot more weight (somewhere in the area of 100 lbs). A larger-version AutoCopter Gunship armed with multiple AA-12 Full-Auto Shotgun/FRAG-12 grenade weapons packages and SPIKEs would seem to be a pretty potent unmanned weapons system. Coincidentally, Steve Felix recently attended the 5th Annual Conference on Armed UAVs in Las Vegas, NV (June 8-9, 2006), which "examines the entire gamut of issues associated with Armed UAVs and Precision Munitions" and asks the question: "What missions can Armed UAVs realistically perform?"
Mr. Felix told DefenseReview on the phone that a SPIKE missile scored a successful hit on a test target (approx. 8 inches off point of aim) on April 12, 2006. We’ll try to get more details about his test (distance, whether the target was moving or stationary, target speed, etc.) and edit this article accordingly.
Who knows? The SPIKE man-packable, shoulder-launched guided missile may just prove to be the perfect fire-and-forget weapon system for dealing with fast-moving/incoming asymmetric threats on the ground (fast-moving) and in the air (slow-moving/low-flying). Time and testing will tell. We’ll keep you posted.
DefenseReview is currently awaiting permission from NAVAIR Weapons Division to publish an excerpted portion of our March 13 (2006) interview with him.