Aerospace Daily & Defense Report
May 10, 2007
The U.S. Air Force's Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) proved ineffective during four recent flight tests, which were conducted as the Pentagon weighs whether to terminate the new stealthy cruise missile program due to cost increases.
During the tests, which took place Apr. 30 - May 1, three of the cruise missiles impacted "well outside the target area," at distances greater than 100-200 feet, according to a preliminary Air Force report on the mishaps. These missiles failed to cause damage to the intended targets. Developers attribute the misses to a GPS "dropout problem" that affected the missile's ability to navigate to the impact point.
The final missile flew its intended flight profile and impacted the target, but experienced a fuzing problem that prevented "high-order detonation," as planned. JASSM is designed to destroy land targets in protected areas.
One missile each from Lockheed Martin's Lots 1-4 were tested as part of a Weapon System Evaluation Program. Each missile accomplished expected launch and flight profiles early on. Two of the missiles were dropped from B-52s with the other two released from B-2s. The tests took place at the Utah Test Range.
JASSM manufacturer Lockheed Martin declined to discuss the errant tests. Developers at the Air Armament Center, which manages the program, were unable to comment by press time.
These tests come at a critical time for the $5.8 billion program. Officials at the Pentagon are in the midst of a full review of JASSM along with a handful of other Defense Department programs, all of which have breached expected costs by 15 percent or more and violated Nunn-McCurdy caps.
In April, the Pentagon reported to Congress that JASSM's cost had increased from $4.3 billion, a boost greater than 25 percent. This requires the Pentagon to conduct a full review, assess whether other solutions may be available to meet the requirement and, if other options are not present, affirm that the program's management is sound enough to proceed without further problems.
That assessment is under way, and results from the four problematic tests will be included in that review. In 1998, the Pentagon decided to extend JASSM's development period due to concerns it was too aggressive. At that time, the Navy proposed an alternative, the Standoff Land-Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER). This could be an option if the Pentagon decides to terminate JASSM.
In its report to Congress, the Pentagon attributed the most recent cost spike to "engineering increases" resulting from work on the extended-range variant, a data link and maritime interdiction capabilities as well as reliability improvements for the weapon. JASSM's predecessor program, the Tri-Service Standoff Attack Missile was cancelled in the 1990s due to escalating cost.
Adding to the complexity of the Pentagon's decision on JASSM is interest from allies in buying the weapon. Australia is helping bear the burden of developing a JASSM variant suitable for maritime targets, and a Pentagon termination would affect that country's ability to meet its own weapons needs.
JASSM's recent test failures aren't the program's first. The Air Force has halted flight testing twice since the program began for various reasons. Lockheed Martin has been working to improve the missile's reliability and company officials say they are committed to continuing the program. -- Amy Butler