31 July, 2008: LONDON - Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) is almost ready to field its latest air-to-surface weapon following completion of operational evaluation trials July 22 at the U.S. Navy's China Lake air warfare center in California. The Paveway IV could see action on the Harrier in Afghanistan. The Ministry of Defence expects to get Raytheon System's Paveway 4 precision-guided weapon into service later this year after trials dropping 14 bombs from a RAF Harrier GR9 completed the test program, and demonstrated that the program's fuse problems had been overcome. The weapon could "potentially" be deployed on the Harrier in Afghanistan before the aircraft type is replaced on the front line by Tornado GR4 strike aircraft in spring 2009, according to MoD project leader Capt. Howard Holdsworth. Within the next two months, "several hundred" Paveway 4s will have been delivered to the MoD, Holdsworth said. To date, the Harrier is the only strike aircraft in the RAF inventory cleared to operate with the weapon. Integration is currently under way on the Tornado GR4, Typhoon and Joint Strike Fighter. Paveway 4 should have been in service last year, but the Thales Missile Electronics-developed all-electronic fuse suffered significant performance shortfalls during capability trials at China Lake in April 2007. That led to a major redesign of the fuse along with changes to a large number of components, according to Phil Jones, the managing director of Thales Missile Electronics. The cooperation between the MoD, Raytheon and Thales to overcome the problems in such a short time was a "remarkable achievement," Holdsworth said. Paveway 4 uses a 500-pound Mk82-type warhead with dual-mode laser and GPS guidance. The Aurora fuse is fully programmable with height-of-burst, post-impact and delay arming options. Raytheon System's precision systems director, Tobin Touchstone, said the company is already looking at growth options for the weapon and has started a dialogue with BAE Systems over the possibility of integrating Paveway 4 on its Mantis long-endurance UAV, unveiled at the Farnborough International Airshow earlier this month. Mantis is a technology demonstrator program initially aimed at investigating intelligence, surveillance, target-acquisition and reconnaissance capabilities, but later phases of the project could include arming the platform. Touchstone said Raytheon was already investing in future growth options, including work on potential integration on UAVs. He reckons the smart fuse would make Paveway 4 ideal for launch from a slow-moving platform. None of the officials would comment on whether the weapon could find its way onto RAF Reaper UAVs currently operating over Afghanistan. The weapons load on Reaper includes the enhanced Paveway 2, an earlier and larger member of the Paveway family operated by the British.
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