JASSM/ No Ma’am – Which Will It Be?
The US Defense Budget has gone to “reconciliation,” during which the US Congress and Senate attempt to take the different defense budgets passed in each body, and reconcile them into one official document for the President to sign. The Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) is left in limbo during this time, either to be cut almost entirely with a recommendation for termination, or to face a $50 million trim from its $150 million program request.
What would be lost if the program were canceled? And why do members of the House and Senate want the program cut or reined in?
Lockheed Martin’s AGM-158 JASSM is intended to be an inexpensive powered cruise missile, as opposed to the unpowered but similar-looking AGM-154 JSOW glide bomb. Whereas JSOWs have a 15-40 nautical mile range, JASSM would deliver its 1,000-lb. warhead about 200 nautical miles from the launch aircraft using GPS/INS guidance and an infrared terminal seeker. This capability would be a significant help against heavily defended targets, as a JASSM is both cheaper and stealthier than a B-52 bomber or even an F-16. It’s also cheaper than other missile alternatives, the AGM-68C/D CALCM air-launched Tomahawk and the $1.5 million MBDA Storm Shadow.
Unfortunately, testing performance issues and the existence of similar weapons have put both the basic JASSM and the 500 nautical mile JASSM-ER in jeopardy.
On the one hand, the JASSM program offers an interesting weapons integration approach that appears to have worked well and saved both money and time. On the other hand, eDefense online reports that the JASSM weapons system failed repeatedly during 2004 flight tests and also failed 2/11 flight tests conducted since testing resumed in March 2005. This brings its record in test flights to 31/41 thus far. While Lockheed believes these problems to be largely resolved and/or resolvable, the US Senate and House of Congress are less sanguine, and see the problems as both serious and an obstacle to the JASSM-ER program.
In addition, JASSM will no longer equip the US Navy’s F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets. The Navy pulled out of the JASSM program in favor of its existing SLAM-ER (under PMA-201), which duplicates many of JASSM’s functions using a platform based on the common Harpoon anti-ship missile. Questions have been raised concerning the wisdom of spending $1 billion to develop JASSM when a perfectly serviceable Navy weapon exists.
eDefense reports that the USAF still hopes to buy 4,900 JASSMs for its F-16 Falcon fighters and B-1B Lancer, B-2 Spirit, and B-52 Stratofortress heavy bombers. Orders totaling 416 JASSMs have already been placed, with Lot 3 of 240 weapons scheduled to complete delivery early in 2006.
- DID (Feb 14/06) – Breakup, Interrupted: JASSM Missile Back on Track. Congress went with the Senate’s version.
- StrategyPage (Jul 11/05) – Why the Stealthy Cruise Missile Ran Out of Cash
- AerospaceWeb offers a comparison of the MBDA Storm Shadow, Tomahawk ALCM, and Lockheed’s JASSM.
- Armada’s 1999 article Accurate Predators With A Mind of Their Own. It’s a good overview of the entire field of powered and unpowered precision-guided winged weapons like the JSOW, JASSM, Storm Shadow, and Taurus, and includes some modern Soviet designs in service with Russia, India, and China.