Each October, the United States Army Association hosts an exhibit in Washington, DC, where arms manufacturers from around the world gather to showcase the latest vehicles and weapons. On offer at the 2022 conference was a new and typically modern type of vehicle: a rugged military truck with a launcher for stray ammunition, which are drone-shaped guided missiles that can (as the name suggests) loiter or pass the time circling an area before crashing into a target. The idea was so compelling that it appeared on the floor at least twice. In one case, the F72-U Hero-120, manufactured by Flyer Defense, mounts a stray ammunition launcher in the back of the company’s F-72 utility truck. And in another, made by AM General, the HUMVEE Saber Blade features a stray ammo launcher in the back of a HUMVEE vehicle.
The existence of both vehicles suggests that there is special value in this type of composite technology. Both models work with existing trucks, known and reliable as platforms. The addition of stray ammo launchers to the rear creates a new vehicle, capable of firing weapons from a distance and with accuracy, before moving away.
These developments are occurring in light of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, where artillery and drones have both had a major impact on how forces fight. For example, the HIMARS, a US-made and supplied rocket artillery truck, mounts a sophisticated launcher to the rear of a vehicle, allowing crews to fire at a target and then move away before retaliation.
In a pinch, both Flyer Defense and AM General options suggest the ability for an army to use stray ammunition in much the same way a HIMAR employs rockets. A vehicle-mounted launcher offers flexibility for advancement and fire, as well as mobility to reposition itself after launch.
Onslaught of leaflets
The F72-U Hero-120 is built around the ability to fire Hero-120 stray ammunition. These winged missiles, made by Mistral and UVision, have a range of at least 25 miles and can carry a 10-pound warhead. The Hero-120s can also fly for up to 60 minutes, powered by their onboard electric motor. This also allows for missiles to be recalled after launch, in case the situation changes or the target is no longer relevant, which is one of the most crucial distinctions between stray ammunition and irrecoverable missiles.
As shown, Flyer’s vehicle can carry 10 weapons, with four ready to launch and six stowed.
The Marine Corps has already selected the Hero-120 as a stray ammunition to match the Organic Precision Fires-Mounted requirements. The goal of that program is to arm a vehicle that can travel with marines, while also expanding the range of what those marines can target beyond that of weapons carried by infantry.
Also on display, and following a similar model, is the HUMVEE Saber Blade. Made by AM General, the Saber Blade also features a remote-controlled weapon station and counter-drone system, made by Hornet. This includes airburst ammunition and a special detection sensor specific to drones.
“The current conflicts have demonstrated the growing importance of drones, both for targeting vehicles and for reconnaissance missions. Being able to detect and defeat such threats while maintaining the vehicle’s primary protection capability is the ultimate capability for a remote-controlled weapons station, ”Hornet’s chief executive Jean Boy said in a statement.
Drones, from hobbyist models to dedicated military machines, have been a regular feature of the Donbas War in Ukraine since 2014. In that conflict, drones often explored static positions or dropped small bombs on occasion. When Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, both sides began using drones in much more extensive ways. Armed drones were used to hunt down tanks. Small quadcopters were used to guide infantry and artillery fire, to the point that soldiers fighting without quadcopters in their formations felt like “blind kittens”.
The Saber Blade vehicle can not only defend against drones, it can also launch Switchblade 300 and Switchblade 600 oscillating ammunition, which its manufacturer AM General describes as “stray precision attack missiles for use against targets that are not in line of sight.”
Stray ammunition, such as drones, are an increasingly common presence on modern battlefields. Russia launched attacks on Kiev using Iran-supplied Shahed-136 ammunition. These weapons can complement missile barrages or rocket attacks. The history of the development of modern artillery suggests that weapons can be used for precision attacks, as well as for wider destruction.
While it will likely be some time before these vehicles can be adopted and integrated into modern forces, the promise is of accurate fire, beyond line of sight, based on the type of sensors and navigation already inherent in stray ammunition. Equipping mobile formations with truck-mounted stray ammunition allows soldiers to fight enemies at greater distances, with weapons that can, as designed, only target specific vehicles, enemies or buildings.