ADF Weapons Project: JASSM to enter service this year? | ADM July 2012
Nigel Pittaway | Melbourne
Despite being placed on the government’s Projects of Concern list last November, work is continuing towards getting Lockheed Martin’s AGM-158A Joint Air to Surface Stand-off Missile in service with the RAAF by the end of the year.
In addition to technical difficulties and delays to the US Air Force-led program, Australia has experienced its own problems integrating JASSM on to the F/A-18A Hornet, which has required a great deal more effort than originally envisaged.
The work culminated in the successful test firing of a JASSM weapon from an RAAF Hornet at the US Navy’s weapons test range at China Lake in December 2010. Following the test, Lockheed Martin and the US Navy began an analysis of the data received, ahead of formal integration certification which was due to have been completed in February.
Prior to the launch, operational testing of the missile’s mission planning component had been signed off in October and followed in November by the completion of initial ground and aircrew operational testing.
A further launch will be carried out at the Woomera test facility leading up to Initial Operating Capability which, according to Defence, is set to occur “no later than December 2011”.
JASSM is being acquired under Project Air 5418 Phase One (Follow On Stand Off Weapon), which seeks to introduce a stand-off weapon capability to the RAAF’s Hornet fleet to replace the F-111/AGM-142 combination, which retired at the end of last year.
It is a semi-stealthy missile, with a 1000 lb warhead, capable of accepting revised target co-ordinates whilst in flight. It is an autonomous long range precision strike weapon intended for use against high value targets. Brochure range is in excess of 2,000 nautical miles and it can strike targets in all weather. JASSM can be equipped with Blast, Fragmentation and Penetration warheads.
Although initially intended to be a Joint weapon (hence the ‘J’ designation), the US Navy withdrew from the programme after a relatively short time and the USAF has developed the weapon for use with its F-15 and F-16 fighters and B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers. It is also planned to integrate JASSM onto USAF F-35As later in that aircraft’s development, but this capability will not be available at IOC in 2017/18.
The US Navy’s decision not to proceed with JASSM meant that only preliminary work was done to integrate the weapon on to the Hornet and this has meant the RAAF (with assistance from the US Navy and Lockheed Martin) has had to go it alone.
Australia is the first international customer for JASSM, an FMS agreement was signed with US Air Force in July 2006 and an associated Direct Commercial Sales contract with Lockheed Martin for data and engineering support followed in September 2006. Aside from the requirement to integrate the weapon on to the Hornet, there are Australia-unique requirements for integrating JASSM mission planning software to the Joint Mission Planning System.
Besides the ‘baseline’ AGM-158A, two further variants of JASSM were planned: an extended range variant (JASSM-ER) which replaces the Teledyne engine of the baseline weapon with a more efficient Williams turbojet and a greater fuel capacity, which increases effective range to more than 500 Nautical Miles; and a maritime strike version, which later became known as the Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) variant, which would incorporate a two-way datalink and ASuW algorithms. Lockheed Martin says this would permit pre-planned targeting with the ability to switch to an alternate after launch, as well as Emergent Targeting, Health And Status reporting, Command Abort capability and Bomb Impact Assessment (BIA).
The latter version is of great interest to Australia, as an anti-shipping weapon will be required to replace the Boeing AGM-84 Harpoon when it leaves service later in the decade. Harpoons are capable of being deployed on RAAF Hornets and AP-3C Orions and were also integrated with the F-111C. Defence has traditionally played its cards close to its chest on the matter though, telling the author in 2010 that, “Defence, as part of Project Air 5418, is investigating the ASuW variant of JASSM in collaboration with the USAF, although the timeframe for the variant is not known. Currently, the Commonwealth is not considering JASSM-ER”.
The US Air Force has given priority to JASSM-ER over the ASuW version and in recent times it appears that activity on the Maritime Strike weapon has migrated to the longer ranged missile from the AGM-158A.This would have left Australia, which does not have a stated aim to acquire the extended range variant, without a maritime strike weapon between retirement of the Harpoon and the introduction of a weapon such as the Naval Strike Missile on its Joint Strike Fighters well into the next decade. Perhaps fortunately however, the RAAF’s 24 Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets are armed with the Raytheon AGM-154A Joint Stand Off Weapon (JSOW) which is capable of attacking surface targets.
When Air 5418 Phase 1 was placed on the Projects of Concern list, Minister for Defence Stephen Smith told Defence’s Senior Leadership Group that the project would receive a greater level of scrutiny in the future, due to what he saw as issues with project management.
In particular, Minister Smith said that he was concerned with a lack of communication about the project from Defence: “Government has not been kept properly informed as to the progress with respect to this major project,” he said, “It is essential for Government to be appropriately informed about the delivery of complex and important capabilities so the appropriate steps can be taken to manage issues that emerge in relation to cost, capability or schedule. Defence will ensure that this project now receives additional scrutiny and senior officer oversight in the lead up to the test firing and in the development of subsequent advice to the Government”.
When testifying at the Senate Estimates hearing earlier this year, DMO chief Dr Stephen Gumley explained that, in part, the assessment that the maritime strike capability may not be available as a future variant of the baseline JASSM contributed in some way to the perceived lack of communication,
Whilst not specifically mentioning the maritime strike variant, referring to it as an “optional and extra capability”, Dr Gumley said: “It was always optional the Americans were going to do that project. It required them getting funding from Congress to do so. That did not happen. We proceeded then with what we said we would do with the initial approval, but we did not inform the government at that stage that this extra capability would not be achieved”
After learning that the additional capability may no longer be available, DMO referred the matter back to the Defence Capability and Investment Committee (DCIC) for further discussion. By the time it felt the issues were fully understood the Gillard government had called an election and was then acting in the caretaker role. As a result, Dr Gumley said that the Defence Minister “did not get his advice until many months after the DCIC meeting”.
JASSM is being acquired under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) system and, as such, is dependent upon annual funding from Congress. This year-by-year development and procurement strategy makes it difficult to predict with any certainty when any further capability will be developed, and this has had an effect on Air 5418.
Reports in the international technical media have suggested that Lockheed Martin will use the Extended Range version of JASSM as the baseline for the Anti-Surface Warfare variant it is developing for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), as its bid for what has been termed the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM-A) program.
Lockheed Martin referred queries to DARPA and the LRSAM-A program office but a company spokesman did provide the following detail: “Lockheed Martin is currently working a US Air Force contract totalling $211 million for a ninth production lot of the JASSM cruise missiles. Under the terms of the Lot 9 contract, 170 baseline missiles, 30 Extended Range (ER) missiles, warranty, and systems engineering are included. There is no funding called out under the Lot 9 contract for Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) development on JASSM. LRASM-A, which is currently under funding by DARPA, is working surface strike variant activity.”
It would therefore seem Australia will either have to buy a further version of JASSM to meet its future Maritime Strike requirements or rely on JSOW (and the Super Hornet force) until a future development of the Joint Strike Fighter program provides the RAAF’s F-35As with a new Anti-Surface Warfare weapon.
According to Defence, IOC for the baseline weapon will now occur over twelve months later than originally planned and Full Operating Capability will now not occur until late 2012. It says the delays are due to the aforementioned problems with Operational Flight Performance (OFP) software for the Hornet, being developed by the US Navy, but the successful test firing at China Lake last year has gone some way towards re-establishing confidence in JASSM as a land attack weapon.
In the meantime however, it remains firmly on the Projects of Concern list.