UPI & The JASSM Debate
DID has covered the stealthy AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM) cruise missile’s key characteristics and development troubles. The February 2006 article “Breakup, Interrupted: JASSM Missile Back on Track” noted its 2006 budgetary allocations, and a subsequent article covered the regional military implications of JASSM’s winning Australia’s future strike missile competition. Despite its status as the program that got the Universal Armament Interface started, ongoing production, and efforts to upgrade the missiles with a full 2-way targeting and reporting link and range extension from 200 to 500 miles, the JASSM program remains troubled by very low test success scores that imperil its existence. Over 11 years of development, problems have arisen with its engine, warhead, power, electrical and other systems. Spring 2007 tests demonstrated guidance and detonation failures, testing success rates since December 2006 are reportedly just 58%, and the program has been reported to Congress for cost breaches.
Now a related and rather public controversy has boiled over, thanks to a United Press International article by Theodore Gaillard. Gaillard’s piece cites testing and reliability issues with the missile, but it also goes a step further and argues that JASSM is the wrong concept. In response, his articles have provoked an official reply from Lockheed Martin that directly addresses his arguments.
Gaillard’s “Outside View: JASSM in crisis” [Part 1 | Part 2] offer a starting point for this debate. Subsonic cruise missiles, he argues, will have difficulty surviving against advanced, layered defenses:
“Stealth-enhancing composite airframes help delay radar detection, but during such 22-minute flights over enemy territory, how would JASSM and any similarly subsonic cruise missiles fare against layered, networked, multi-sensor air defense systems employing Russian-made S-300PMU — SA-10D — surface-to-air missiles — or their SA-N-6 ship-based counterparts — intercepting at a blistering 4,500 miles per hour? Russia claims they are effective against attacking aircraft, cruise missiles and theater ballistic missiles at ranges of more than 100 miles and altitudes from 30,000 to 80,000 feet.”
Against Tomahawk-type cruise missiles, Russia’s supersonic S-300PMU Favorit’s kill ratio is listed as 0.8-0.98, and a US GAO report highlighted a 6-Tomahawk “stream raid” against the Iraqi Rasheed airfield in 1991 that had just a 33% survival rate against far less sophisticated defensive systems.
Meanwhile, Russia, China, India et. al. are all developing supersonic cruise missiles – something the USA had back in the 1960s, and has lost.
“Forget about replacing JASSMs with other subsonic missiles. Unless we develop and deploy our own stealthy, jam-proof, inertial/GPS-guided, terrain- and wave-hugging supersonic cruise missiles, technologically more advanced adversaries will control the battle space.”
The RATTLRS program looks ready to take up that mantle, and the GQM-163 Coyote supersonic, terrain-hugging aerial target program could certainly become an armed missile in a pretty big hurry. Meanwhile, however, we have the issue of JASSM, and implictly of other sub-sonic cruise missiles like the EADS/KEPD Taurus 350 and MBDA Storm Shadow (which also touts its stealth technology), Boeing’s SLAM-ER used by the Navy, et. al.
That hanging issue prompted an unusually substantive corporate reply. Steven K. Barnoske is JASSM program director at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. In “The case for JASSM“, he argues that:
- USAF planners decided that stealth was more important than speed against the full range of threats;
- JASSM is “the only cruise missile in the world to incorporate state-of-the-art stealth technologies” – and Barnoske hints that its stealth may be more extensive than publicized;
- Testing and modeling has been conducted that validates JASSM’s ability to survive modern networked, layered defenses;
- Cost growth is largely the result of spiral development’s capability enhancements;
- Even now, JASSM is the lowest-cost cruise missile in the USA’s arsenal;
He then goes on to address the test failures, beginning with the claim that:
- “…test failures do not mean the entire program is a failure; rather, they mean that the testing process works — and that more work needs to be done”;
While that is true by definition, it does not really address the issue of why failures continue after a very long development period. Nonetheless, having argued that JASSM is worth the investment because of the capabilities its brings for its cost, Barnoske adds that:
- Lockheed Martin and the USAF have developed some corrective plans that are under review before flight testing resumes;
- Lockheed Martin is sharing the cost of the corrective effort, and has committed to pay for the majority of any fixes that may be required to previously accepted missiles already in inventory;
- While they are disappointed by the test failures and the USAF’s investigation of JASSM alternatives, it’s what any prudent buyer would do, and what they do with suppliers.
Reader are encouraged to read both sides of this debate, plus our article’s embedded links as appropriate, and make up their own minds.