Sunday, 19 February 2012

Griffin Mini-Missiles

As UAVs proliferate, and the demands of counter-insurgency fights force militaries to look at arming new kinds of aircraft, a number of manufacturers and governments are looking to develop precision-guided “mini-missiles” and glide weapons. Raytheon’s 33+ pound, 42 inch long Griffin is a member of that class, and comes in 2 versions.

The Griffin-A version is currently in use as part of American roll-on armed kits for its C-130 Hercules transports. It’s dropped out of “gunslinger” tubes, providing precision firepower from the rear ramp. The Griffin B is a forward-firing weapon that can be launched from land, naval, or aerial platforms. Either way, the missile packs a 13 pound blast-fragmentation warhead, and uses a combination of GPS/INS and a semi-active laser seeker for guidance. Griffin-B is currently a candidate to equip the Littoral Combat Ship’s surface warfare module.

Griffin was privately developed, and Raytheon took pains to re-use components from existing weapons like the AIM-9X Sidewinder air-air missile, and the Javelin anti-tank missile.

The Griffin’s estimated range is similar to the larger AGM-114 Hellfire: about 3.5 miles if surface-launched without a booster motor, rising to 12.5 miles or more if fired from an aerial platform at altitude. That’s fine for aerial platforms, as Griffin A/B offers them the ability to carry more Griffins than Hellfires, and achieve similar reach and precision, with less collateral damage.

There are still targets like tanks and some buildings, which will demand a larger AGM-114 Hellfire missile, or even a full-size AGM-65 Maverick missile or LJDAM bomb. In many cases, however, the Griffin offers a “just enough, for less” solution.

Confirmed Platforms: KC-130J Harvest Hawk, MC-130W Combat Spear, MQ-1 Predator UAV, MQ-8B Fire Scout VTUAV, MQ-9 Reaper UAV. Also tested using a ground-launch system, and the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter.

The Army is testing the 45-pound, powered Griffin B missile as an option for forward outposts. Raytheon’s own Javelin missile is already widely deployed, and offers similar range and firepower. Javelin is a rather expensive missile, and takes some time to activate and reload, but comes with advanced sensors that troops use independently. Griffin will have to compete on cost and response time/volume, in order to achieve acceptance. It ability to receive geo-cordinate cues from UAVs and other sensors, without the need for an operator to find the same target himself, may provide it with the edge it needs.

On the naval front, the picture isn’t as rosy. Griffin-B’s surface-launched range is less than 1/6th of the Raytheon NLOS-LS PAM’s planned 25 mile range, so replacing NLOS-LS with Griffin comes at a cost. This severe cut in reach, coupled with the warhead’s small size, will sharply limit the Littoral Combat Ship’s already-restricted ranged engagement options. Griffins would be suitable for engaging enemy speedboats, but cannot function as naval fire support for ground forces, or do much damage to full-size enemy vessels – most of which will pack large anti-ship missiles with a 50+ mile reach. This hasn’t stopped the Navy from designating the Griffin as an interim solution anyway, but unless it finds a future niche on small USVs, or as a roll-on kit for non-combatant and patrol ships, Griffin isn’t likely to have a big-ticket naval future.

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