Australia Chooses JASSM Missiles on F-18s for Long-Range Strike
In March 2005, Lockheed Martin’s AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile (or JASSM) cruise missile won the competition with Boeing’s SLAM-ER and the Taurus KEPD 350 for the AIR 5418 Follow-on Standoff Weapon (FOSOW) requirement. This marks the first international sale of this stealthy cruise missile, which was originally developed for the US Air Force and Navy. The contract includes production, integration and support, and was signed in September 2006. Total project cost was revealed as A$ 300 million (about USD$ 230 million), and production will be integrated into the existing line at the Lockheed Martin Pike County Operations facility in Troy, AL, USA.
The Australian government noted that “acquiring a long range air to surface missile has been publicly listed in Defence’s Capability Plan since 2001 and specific details were announced in August 2004,” and JASSMs are expected to be operational on Australia’s aircraft fleet by December 2009. Nevertheless, the purchase raised some controversy at home concerning its effect on the region, the reason it was chosen, and some of the choices that accompany its selection.
What’s the history behind this buy? Why did Australia make this particular choice, and choose the JASSM over the SLAM-ER? Is the regional destabilization controversy valid?
Australian JASSM: Contracts & Key Events
The total AIR 5418 Phase 1 budget in FY 2013 funds, including inflation and exchange adjustments, is A$ 317.4 million. JASSM was bought through a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Case with the USAF for the supply of the operational and test missiles, support equipment and USAF program management support. A 2nd FMS case with the United States Navy covered weapon to aircraft integration (combined: A$ 162.9 million as of June 2013). Integration of JASSM onto the F/A-18 A/B Hornet was undertaken by the US Navy’s Advanced Weapons Laboratory at China Lake, CA. The integration effort required the inclusion of the JASSM capability into the F/A-18 A/B Hornet 21X and 23X Operational Flight Program (OFP) software, which is the Hornet’s core software.
Finally, an $87.4 million Direct Commercial Sales contract with Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control bought certification/ airworthiness data, integration support, and unspecified “missile capability enhancements”.
Dec 17/13: ANAO Report. Australia’s National Audit Office releases their 2012-13 Major Projects Report. JASSM falls under Project AIR 5418, Phase 1, otherwise known as the Follow On Stand Off Weapon (FOSOW) program.
The program is mostly complete, with expected delivery of all purchases and close-out of the program in September 2013. Two live test firings occurred in mid-2013, and explosive ordnance storage facilities are available to meet all storage requirements. Initial inspections had yanked the facilities’ Explosive Limit Licenses due to design shortcomings, but Australia found alternative temporary storage facilities during the rectification gap.
April 2013: Deliveries. Deliveries of a new fuze are finished. This was a problem with the Lot 8 missiles, which constituted the bulk of Australia’s buy. Final Materiel Release and Final Operational Capability are expected for September 2013, which will be 2 3/4 years late for FOC. Source: ANAO 2012–13 Major Projects Report.
Dec 13/11: IOC. Following positive recommendations from the Airworthiness Board, AIR 5418 achieves IOC on mission software OFP 23X. This is 2 years later than the original December 2009, and ANAO attributes the delay to “delays in the AF/A-18 A/B software development and certification process, which has required extensive testing and redevelopment”. Source: ANAO 2012–13 Major Projects Report.
Dec 13/11: Australia’s DoD removes JASSM from their notorious “Projects of Concern” list, and explains the rocky procurement history to date:
“This project was approved in December 2005 to acquire JASSM for deployment on Classic Hornets.
The project was listed as a Project of Concern in November 2010 due to a failure by Defence to keep Government properly informed about the project’s progress.
The lesson of this project is that Defence cannot fail to keep Government properly and fully informed about projects and their difficulties.
The JASSM project has been used as a case study for improvements in the management of major Defence projects. Lessons from the project informed the Government’s response to the “Review of the Defence Accountability Framework” (the Black Review), which Minister Smith released in August .
In July this year, the missile was successfully tested at the Woomera Test Range in South Australia. In November  the Chief of Air Force provided service release, certifying the JASSM for use on Australia’s F/A-18 A/Bs.
The Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Defence Materiel Organisation has recommended the project be removed from the Projects of Concern list.
The Government has accepted this recommendation.”
IOC achieved; Off the Projects of Concern list/p>
July 2011: Testing. A pair of successful JASSM firings tat Australia’s Woomera Test Range. As a result, Initial Materiel Release is signed off on Aug 3/11. Source: ANAO 2012–13 Major Projects Report.
May 2011: Revisions. A Cabinet Submission re: Project AIR 5418 is accepted by Government. The submission takes the last step to remove moving target capability from the scope of the project, with a Real Cost Decrease of A$ 50 million and revised definition requirements for Initial & Final Operational Capability, and Initial and Final Materiel Releases. Source: ANAO 2012–13 Major Projects Report.
Feb 28/11: Certified. A Letter of Certification re: JASSM’s integration with Australia’s Hornets is issued by the USN. Interesting ANAO lesson learned from the experience: “Interface Control Documents are not always correct or may not have been interpreted correctly during host platform design.” Source: ANAO 2012–13 Major Projects Report.
Dec 3/10: Testing. A successful JASSM live firing is completed at the USN’s China Lake, CA Weapons Range, confirming that JASSM works with the F/A-18AM/BM’s new 21X OFP core mission software. Source: ANAO 2012–13 Major Projects Report.
May 28/10: After the USAF cancels funding for adding maritime strike capability, Australia decides that they need to give up that Full Operational Capability requirement. Australia’s Defence Capability and Investment Committee makes it official. Source: ANAO 2012–13 Major Projects Report.
No maritime strike
July 28/06: Lockheed Martin Co. in Orlando, FL received an $87.4 million firm-fixed-price contract for joint air-to-surface standoff missile (JASSM) initial operational capability and full operational capability assets. This effort supports foreign military sales to the Commonwealth of Australia (100%). Solicitations began March 2006, negotiations were complete July 2006, and work will be complete in December 2011. The Headquarters 328th Armament Systems Group at Eglin Air Force Base, FL issued the contracts (FA8682-06-D-0072-0002 – long lead assets; and FA8682-06-D-0072-0004 – balance of assets).
Australia’s JASSM Acquisition: Explanation & Analysis
To explain the program background, DID turned to Carlo Kopp, P.Eng. of Air Power Australia and Monash University for a short history lesson. He writes:
“The recent selection of the JASSM is the end point in a very long an tortuous path which started over a decade ago. At that time it was decided to equip the RAAF F-111 fleet with a Mil-Std-1760 capable variant of the AGM-142 [DID: Popeye/ Have Nap short range cruise missile], which prevailed in a contest against the US AGM-130 weapon. Planning at that time envisaged a follow-on weapon to the AGM-142, also to be carried by the F-111, in a latter phase of the AIR 5398 program. With delays mostly induced by the Canberra DoD withholding funding for extended periods of time, the integration of the AGM-142 was not completed until very recently with the weapon now achieving IOC [DID: Initial Operating Capability], as the F-111C fleet is being retrofitted with Mil-Std-1760 interfaces and a VME COTS auxiliary processor subsystem.
By the late 1990s public statements indicated that the AGM-158 JASSM was seen to be the winner of this contest, the aim being for an F-111 to carry four rounds on Mil-Std-1760 pivot pylons. However, a large scale freeze of all projects in progress in the 2000 FY period saw this program also disappear into limbo. It was subsequently resurrected as AIR 5418, the aim again being to provide a cruise missile class weapon for the RAAF. The subsequent shortlist saw the field narrowed down to the KEPD-350, SLAM-ER and JASSM.”
All three weapons are semi-stealthy cruise missiles with turbojet engines, using GPS and thermal imaging guidance that lets them follow programmed routes to their targets:
Spain bought the EADS/LFK’s Taurus KEPD 350 cruise missile for use on its F/A-18 Fighters in 2005. It has an effective range of 350km (210 miles), weighs 1,300kg (2,800 pounds), and carries a 480kg (1,050-pound) warhead. It lacks a datalink for in-flight retargeting, though this is contemplated as a future upgrade.
Boeing’s SLAM-ER is a subsonic cruise missile in service with the US Navy on F/A-18 Hornet family and S-3 Viking aircraft, and is being acquired by South Korea for its F-15K Strike Fighters. It is based on a modified Harpoon anti-ship missile, with an effective range of 150 nautical miles (280km). It weighs 1,600 pounds (725kg), and carries an 800-pound warhead (360kg). SLAM-ER can be used in an anti-shipping mode, and has In-Flight Flex-Targeting capability that enables effective retargeting of the missile after launch. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the missiles’ video link was used to provide bomb damage assessment to mission planners. On the negative side, it is the least stealthy design of the three.
Lockheed Martin’s AGM-158 JASSM is also a subsonic cruise missile. It’s bigger than the SLAM-ER, with better stealth and range, but smaller and slightly shorter range than the Taurus. JASSM had also been integrated with F/A-18s before the US Navy dropped out of the joint USAF/USN project in FY 2005 to go with SLAM-ER. The weapon has an effective range of approximately 200 nautical miles (320km), weighs 2,250 pounds (1,020kg), and carries a 1,000-pound warhead. DID has covered the JASSM before, which faced questions over its future in the last US budget cycle – ironically, largely on the grounds that SLAM-ER could do the same job. Anti-ship capability and a two-way datalink that would allow retargeting are slated for future upgrades, but are not currently part of JASSM’s capabilities.
Australia’s order would appear to assure the long-term future of the JASSM, as alliance diplomacy now becomes a factor in any cancellation decisions. Yet the order has created some surprise and even controversy in Australia. Dr. Kopp adds:
“Twelve months ago the KEPD-350 was withdrawn from the contest, leaving the field to Boeing and LM. The win by the JASSM was announced last month.
The Australian DoD does not have a recent history of explaining the rationale for decisions in any other terms than public relations generalities, so the exact criteria which drove the decision are not yet known publicly. Many observers expected the SLAM-ER would win the bid since less integration effort would be required, and many in the F/A-18A community, which has considerable clout inside the Canberra DoD, are known to often favour US Navy solutions.
The JASSM is a much newer weapon than the SLAM-ER in design concept, has much better low observables performance than SLAM-ER, and with the CALCM-class JASSM-ER in development, has better growth potential and likely longer production life than SLAM-ER. This makes it a better long term choice, in strategic capability terms. As JASSM was engineered for very low unit production costs, it may have also been a cheaper option.”
For more information covering the tactical employment of cruise missiles, the candidate weapons, and the economics of various deployment scenarios, see Dr. Kopp’s “Cruise Missile Options for Australia” [PDF] in the December 2004 issue of Australian Aviation.
While the quote from Australia’s government release mentions a “long-range air-surface missile,” a reach of 150-250 miles is more like a medium range weapon. What may have tipped the selection toward the JASSM is the R&D underway to create the JASSM-ER, which would offer a range of 500 miles without changing the weapon’s size. This would approach the AGM-86C CALCM air-launched cruise missile’s range of 600 nautical miles, albeit with a significantly smaller warhead.
The Australian government also noted that the project “had considered equipping both the F/A-18 Hornet and AP-3C Orion aircraft with the missile. This decision will reduce overall cost and risk of the project by equipping the F/A-18 only.”
The SLAM-ER could have been integrated with the Harpoon-capable P-3C and used in a dual-role anti-shipping/ land-attack role, as a longer range and much heavier complement to the Maverick land-attack missile carried on the upgraded P-3C ASuW AIP. JASSM would be more difficult to integrate on the AP-3Cs, and Australia would have borne the full costs alone.
The Australian Ministry of Defence obviously felt that the stealth, range, and future improvement benefits represented by JASSM justified giving up this capability.
With respect to the question of whether the weapon will be regionally destabilizing by increasing Australia’s ability to threaten its neighbours, the short answer is no.
The longer answer is that the very premise of the question is wrong.
One must begin by asking if Australia’s reach vis-a-vis its neighbors has really been extended very much. The JASSM missiles will be carried on Australia’s fleet of F/A-18 HUG (C/D equivalent) Hornet aircraft, and is part of the Australian government’s plans to retire its long-range F-111 strike fighters by 2010 instead of the original 2020 date. I asked Dr. Carlo Kopp for some range figures with equivalent weapons, and the F/A-18 Hornet’s range is such that even with JASSM and additional fuel tanks, Australia’s overall strike reach shrinks (2 JASSM load means 500 miles/ 800 km range for Hornet with drop-tanks + 160 miles/ 300km for the JASSM = 660 miles/ 1,100km) vs. the F-111 (equivalent load of JDAMs means 1,000 miles/ 1,600km on internal fuel). So, too, does its weapons carrying capacity per fighter, because an F-111 can carry more ordnance.
It’s difficult to argue seriously that this change is more threatening to Australia’s neighbors. Nor do future improvements promise to change this dynamic.
A future JASSM-ER, which adds about 400 miles/ 720km to its aircraft’s mission reach, would at best bring Australia’s F/A-18 force close to strike reach parity with its existing F-111s. The limitation of lower weapons loads per aircraft would, however, remain.
Australia’s expected F-35 Joint Strike Fighter buy wouldn’t change this dynamic either. The F-35′s range will be longer than the Hornet’s but not by much, weapons carrying capacity would not be greater, and JASSM missiles would force F-35s to ruin their stealth profile by mounting the weapons externally instead of using its stealth-friendly internal storage bays.
Aerial refueling can extend a force’s strike range past their normal reach limits, but then that is true of Australia’s existing F-111s as well. F/A-18 and F-35 aircraft will be more dependent on tanker aircraft for adequate reach, however, which presents issues for strike planning. Aerial tankers like Australia’s new A330-200 MRTTs carry eight-figure price tags, and no nation has very many of them. Worse, they have large radar profiles, and losing them would mean the loss of all fighters on the mission when fuel runs out.
That’s why aerial refueling is a risky choice near hostile territory unless you’re a major power like the United States, who can send aircraft carriers and their squadrons to “sanitize” whole areas for aerial tankers to fly in safely. Countries like Australia do not really have that option, which means the tanker must have its own set of fighter escorts – and those need another tanker to supply them, plus backups in case something happens to one of the mission tankers. This can get expensive rather quickly, remains somewhat vulnerable if the enemy has long range air-air missiles, and creates high dollars to ordnance on target ratios.
With only 5 Airbus A330-200 MRTT aerial tankers on order, Australia’s capabilities in this area are also rather limited.
The inescapable conclusion from this analysis is that Australia’s total effects reach is poised to decline, not rise, once F/A-18s armed with JASSMs replace F-111s armed with precision bombs and AGM-142s. The political controversy about Australia’s increased ability to threaten its neighbors isn’t just an invalid complaint – it would appear to be the reverse of the truth.
Australia’s F-111s are being retired early, and won’t be configured to carry JASSM missiles even though the recent MIL-STD-1760 upgrades would allow them to do so. Australia’s F/A-18s, which are being given MIL-STD-1760 capability as part of their upgrade program, will carry JASSM once it’s introduced. Dr. Kopp argues that Australia’s best option by far in terms of overall expense for effects is to refurbish their F-111s, keep them in service to the original planned date of 2020 or beyond, and have them carry the JASSMs instead. Nor is he alone in this view, though it is not a view shared by the Ministry of Defence. Interested readers are invited to review Dr. Kopp’s materials and reasoning, and decide for themselves.
Regardless, Australia’s MoD in Canberra has made its decision regarding the F-111, and appears to be sticking to it. As such, the major benefits of JASSM to Australia are that it makes RAAF F/A-18s much more likely to survive missions that feature strong air defenses. They also serve as a stopgap measure around the MoD’s chosen policy of early F-111 retirement that’s much cheaper than buying F-15E Strike Eagles or Tornado IDS as replacements.
One recalls Teal Group forecaster Steve Zaloga’s recent thesis regarding drivers in the global missile market:
“In budget-strapped times, it is more cost effective to add a new generation of… missiles to an older aircraft than to buy a new aircraft. Likewise, ships and many other weapons categories. Missiles offer to increase the combat capabilities of many weapons platforms without the need for the expense of replacing the system itself.”
As one can see here, they may or may not actually do so in the end once all factors are considered. What is indisputable is that the procurement dynamic that Mr. Zaloga describes is alive and well.
- DID – AGM-158 JASSM: Lockheed’s Family of Stealthy Cruise Missiles.
- US Air Force Materiel Command (March 8/06) – JASSM – The Air Force’s Next Generation Cruise Missile. Notes that “As it stands right now the [US] Air Force currently plans to buy 2,400 JASSMs and 2,500 JASSM-ERs with production extending through 2018.”
- DID – Australia’s 2nd Fighter Fleet: Super Hornets & Growlers. JASSM is eventually expected to be integrated with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet family as well. Integration with the F-35A is farther away, and the missiles won’t fit into the plane’s stealth-enhancing internal weapons bays.