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When engineer Phil Hillman joined Boeing’s Avenger program 20 years ago in Alabama, the new, mobile “air defense” system “was probably the hottest thing going on the Huntsville campus,” he said.
Production was ramping up to a robust rate of 12 vehicles a month. The following year, Avenger was deployed to defend NATO troops against Iraqi aircraft and cruise missiles during the Persian Gulf War.
Hillman said the program went on to have a “long and prosperous history,” building more than 1,100 units. Perhaps Avenger’s most famous role was after 9/11, when it was deployed around Washington, D.C., to defend the nation’s anxious capital city.
Despite this success, the program is not resting on its laurels. Boeing used its own research money to develop a next-generation system that is more capable and versatile than its predecessor.
“Boeing has developed a universal weapons interface concept that enables integration of a variety of weapons, providing multi-mission capability on a single platform,” said Hillman, now the program manager for Avenger and the new Adaptive Force Protection Solutions system, or AFPS. “This approach allows for rapid conversion, a robust weapons mix and the flexibility to match the weapon with the threat.”
"Boeing has developed a universal weapons interface concept that enables integration of a variety of weapons, providing multi-mission capability on a single platform."
AFPS carries the “classic” Avenger weapon -- the Stinger surface-to-air missile -- but can also field an array of other weapons, including the AIM-9X surface-to-air missile, which has longer range than the Stinger. Hellfire missiles and 2.75-inch guided rockets on AFPS can defend against ground targets, and a remotely operated, lightweight 25 mm machine gun can counter air or ground targets. AFPS can even carry a high-energy laser to destroy unexploded ordnance on the ground or unmanned aircraft in the air. Weapons can be removed or installed in as little as a few minutes.
While the Avenger’s rotating turret is mounted on a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), commonly known as the Humvee, the AFPS system can be placed with or without a turret on a variety of vehicles, including the new mine-resistant, ambush-protected all-terrain vehicles (MATVs) being used to protect American troops against roadside bombs in Afghanistan. Other potential platforms include a Humvee, the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles or even the ground or a ship.
“AFPS takes a very effective weapon system in Avenger and adds a lot of capability not only to improve the primary mission of air defense but also to give it a multi-role element for force protection against ground threats,” Hillman said. “And it is vehicle agnostic; as long as there is enough real estate, it can be adapted to any vehicle.”
Boeing recently demonstrated this versatility in Washington, D.C. At the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting Oct. 25-27, AFPS displayed a different weapons configuration each day.
“This gives potential customers and users the opportunity to see up close and personal how this system can be quickly and easily adapted to meet a variety of mission needs,” Hillman said.