By The Close Combat Weapon Systems Project Office
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. — Engaging the enemy effectively without a clear line-of-sight is an ongoing challenge for Soldiers serving in small, outlying posts in theater. One solution is the Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System (LMAMS), a not-within-direct-fire-line-of-sight, single-use munition system that is launched from a small tube. The entire system is carried in a Soldier’s backpack.
Equipped with optical sensors, LMAMS transmits live color video wirelessly to a display on a ground control unit. The technology allows the Soldier to find the enemy and ensure positive identification before engaging. LMAMS deploys within two-minutes and can fly for up to fifteen minutes.
The advantages? Increased support and lethality while limiting unintended damage.
“It is a very sophisticated bullet with eyes,” said Bill Nichols, acting product director for LMAMS at the Army’s Close Combat Weapons Systems (CCWS) project office.
Fulfilling a Requirement
LMAMS is the product of an Army requirement submitted to the U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force (REF) in January 2011. The request for an improved aerial munitions system was based on the results of a limited Block 1 Switchblade assessment, completed in the fall of 2010. Switchblade was the most mature technical solution available at the time. LMAMS, the resulting upgraded capability, includes an enhanced day camera and the addition of an infrared camera for night operations. It also comes with a tailored training package.
“Once the development work was completed, we took that configuration and put it through an extensive production verification test to ensure reliability of the system and to basically ‘shake out’ the system,” Nichols said.
That shaking out of the system included more than 100 test flights for the LMAMS. Once the test flights were completed, full-system munitions were produced and vetted through safety confirmation tests. The tests included limited environmental testing, electromagnetic interference testing and full, live firefight flight tests. Once LMAMS was deemed safe for use by Soldiers, the Army started equipping the system to support operations in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in August 2012.
“By partnering with the REF, we were able to deliver the capability to Soldiers in combat within14 months of receiving the original requirement” said Nichols.
Bill Ruta, program manager for CCWS added, “This has been a shoestring operation. With all the limitations on resources, this team has performed a superb job in their ability to produce the kind of efficiencies that made it possible to get this system into theater rapidly.”
Although the aerial munition is designed for non-line-of-sight targets, it’s categorized as a direct fire asset. When the munition reaches the target, the cameras on LMAMS allow the Soldier to have “eyes on” the target, which provides the required positive identification. If the situation or target changes, then the operator can wave the munition off and either continue to view or re-approach the target or look for a secondary target.
“It is one of the few—if not the only—munition that can be moved off of its intended target, directed to a safe place, and detonated or destroyed after it is launched. There is no other munition in the inventory that I am aware of that allows us to do this in real time and with such precision. It limits unintended casualties and collateral damage,” Nichols said.
LMAMS has allowed Soldiers to engage the enemy in the open, in narrow village corridors, or where other civilians are present within a small radius of where the target is to be engaged or neutralized. In instances where the primary target has been lost, the Soldier has been able to divert the munition to a secondary target or detonate, preventing civilian casualties.
LMAMS is ground-launched from a static position at a forward operating base or at a small post in a ready-to-fire or standby mode. In the future, it may be possible to have several munitions fired from a pod in an effort to provide base defense or to have the system launched from a vehicle.
“I’d say that with this type of munition and capability, although we have learned a lot, we are at about the second day of the Wright brothers’ first flight. We’ve got that much left to learn with this once we put it into the hands of the great Soldiers we have,” Nichols said.
Feedback from Soldiers who’ve used the munition is critical in determining the future of LMAMS, and there are systems in place to ensure that CCWS can collect crucial data. CCWS is already looking at feedback from each engagement and identifying potential improvements. There are also two formal field operating assessments going on as part of the feedback processes. These assessments, along with the individual engagement feedback process, will provide CCWS information critical to determine any future material changes, methods of employment and more effective system training.
“We’re getting all of that great feedback because Soldiers are always brutally honest,” Nichols said. “That’s exactly what we need in order to continue to evolve LMAMS.”