By: Warren Gray
Copyright © 2021
“When you have the capability to send something a mile and a half, and hit within five yards or less of the bad guy, you are achieving what our troops have always wanted — take out a specific target and minimize collateral damage.” — Frank Antenori, Raytheon Technologies, former U.S. Special Forces soldier.
“This is the first of its kind…You’ve got a kill-shot, every time, regardless of target movement, windage, or range.” — James R. “J.R.” Smith, Raytheon Technologies.
A Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) team in the Makhmur Mountains of northern Iraq in March 2021 finds itself in an ISIS terrorist stronghold, and a fanatical insurgent fires a Russian-made, OSV-96 .50-caliber sniper rifle at them from nearly a mile away, barely missing the team leader. Fortunately, one of the Canadian soldiers spots the bright muzzle flash in the distance, and identifies the shooter’s location in the ruins of an old, sturdy, stone building on the nearby hillside. The special operations men are armed with Colt Canada C8 SFW (Special Forces Weapon) carbines in 5.56x45mm and a few M320 40mm grenade launchers, and if this were an American Special Forces team, they’d have to hunker down, use their radio, and wait for air support to negate the long-range, sniper threat. But the clever Canadians have an instant-response, self-defense option that no one else possesses yet.
They call upon their two-man, Raytheon Pike team to come forward with their compact, pistol-shaped, combat-proven, AeroBase Group LA-10u/PEQ laser designator and Heckler and Koch M320 grenade launcher, loaded with a single, new, olive-green Pike, a rocket-propelled, 40mm grenade with three to four times the range of existing, 40x46mm grenades. The Pike is a laser-guided, American-made weapon, only 16.8 inches long, and weighing a mere 1.7 pounds, appropriately advertised by the manufacturer as, “The world’s only hand-launched, precision-guided munition.”
The Canadian laser operator, or spotter, stabilizes his small device on a tripod, registers the precise distance to the ISIS sniper as 1,580 meters (1,738 yards, or .9875 mile), and announces that, “The target’s spiked,” activating his laser-illumination beam. The M320 gunner/grenadier then aims and fires his weapon in an upward trajectory, with a small, propellant charge ejecting the Pike munition eight to 10 feet from the launch tube with low recoil forces before the nearly-smokeless, rocket motor ignites. This helps to conceal the Pike team’s location from enemy forces.
Once the rocket fires, the Pike grenade has a range of more than 2,100 meters (2,300 yards, or 1.3 miles), and is accurate to within 16 feet of the target at that range. Its 9.6-ounce (.6-pound), blast-fragmentation warhead is equivalent to two hand grenades in destructive force, with a lethal radius of 33 feet. This distance capability was proven during two actual, highly-successful tests on a private range in Texas in May 2015, using dummy warheads. In other words, it virtually cannot miss. The warhead and propulsion system were developed by Nammo Talley, in conjunction with Raytheon Technologies. The Pike munition is effective against either fixed or slow-moving targets.
Technically, any rocket-powered weapon with a guidance system is a “missile,” but that’s not the term that anyone uses to describe the Pike. Instead, it’s usually referred to as a “munition,” or a “rocket-propelled grenade,” because it replaces unguided, ballistically fired, 40mm grenades, and has a rocket motor.
It can be fired from the H&K M320 launcher, the FNH Mk. 13 launcher, or from a modified, M203 launcher affixed to an ordinary, assault rifle, and uses digital, semi-active laser guidance to reach its designated target within about 20 seconds, even at very long ranges. While it’s initially operated by two-man teams, a single grenadier can also employ the weapon, because it can fly for up to 15 seconds before the laser seeker in the rocket projectile activates itself, so the grenadier can shoot first, and then pick up the laser designator and aim the weapon very precisely after it’s in-flight. As an alternate measure, the launcher itself may be equipped with a laser designator. Actually, any properly-coded, military laser designator will guide the Pike to its target, so it does not have rely upon a specific make or model of laser illuminator.
As of 2019, however, there was only one customer for the incredible, new, Pike system, the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM), which has maintained a force of about 200 soldiers in northern Iraq since September 2014, plus 300 additional troops in the region, combatting ISIS insurgents and advising Iraqi forces. (See my Gunpowder Magazine article on “Let Us Dare: Canadian Special Forces,” from August 9, 2019.)
The ordinary, NATO-standard, 40x46mm LV (low-velocity) grenades in use with the M203 launcher since the Vietnam War have an effective range of only 150 to 350 meters, are unguided and inaccurate, with a muzzle velocity of only 250 feet per second (even my deer-hunting crossbow is 50-percent faster than that), and the longer, 40x51mm MV (medium-velocity) grenades for special operations units are only marginally more effective, both with a kill radius of 16 feet. These grenades are most efficient at very short ranges of up to 150 yards, and cost only about $70 per round.
The U.S. Army possesses a weapon that will do essentially what the Pike does, with a significantly longer range of up to 4,000 meters. In service since 1996, the Raytheon/Lockheed Martin FGM-148FJavelin is a man-portable, infrared-homing, fire-and-forget, anti-tank missile with an 18-pound warhead, used successfully in combat since 2003, with over 5,000 missiles fired in action in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. The problem is weight and cost. The Javelin system weighs a hefty 49.2 pounds, ready to fire, and each 127mm missile costs a staggering $175,203 in FY 2021 dollars! It’s so bulky and cumbersome that Special Forces units, which travel fast and lightly, do not carry them.
Raytheon has not yet released the price of the super-accurate, Pike munition, but James R. “J.R.” Smith, the director of advanced, land warfare systems at Raytheon’s missile systems unit in Tucson, Arizona, has stated that, “I guarantee you this will be a tiny fraction of the cost of a Javelin.” Given the relative cost of other small, laser-guided weapons, such as the AGR-20B 70mm APKWS II missile, Pike is estimated to cost at least $3,000, and probably closer to $8,000 or $9,000.
By comparison with the Javelin, the Raytheon Pike is many orders of magnitude smaller, lighter, and far less expensive, and a Pike team can carry quite a few of them in their backpacks. It may not stop a heavily-armored tank, but there’s very little tank warfare these days, and Pike is brilliantly successful at stopping enemy snipers or rocket-propelled grenade-launcher teams at well over a mile and a quarter. J.R. Smith of Raytheon noted that, “What’s enabling this is the miniaturization of electronics…Pike will become smarter and smarter as we continue to develop its capabilities.”
This open-ended evolution will inevitably lead to improved versions of the Pike munition in the future, probably utilizing different fuses, an enhanced warhead, smaller overall size, and the ability to be integrated onto ground vehicles and ATVs (like the Polaris Defense MRZR), small boats (for anti-piracy operations), and reconnaissance drones.
Some new weapon systems, however effective, get off to a slow start, such as the BAE Systems AGR-20BAPKWS II laser-guided, 70mm missile, which took nearly a full decade to acquire sufficient customers to justify continued development and production. Perhaps the Raytheon Pike will be another such example of an excellent weapon in the very early stages of its developmental life. So far, only the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command can answer that question.
Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, four college degrees, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.vistaprintdigital.com.