The JASSM Spasm

Lockheed Martin, which builds the Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile, had some disappointing results during a test last week that raised even more difficult questions about the ongoing development program.JASSM-web.jpg

(Photo from Lockheed Martin)

From the Orlando Sentinel:

Last week, the company confirmed that "anomalies were experienced" in four JASSM tests conducted at a missile range in Utah in early May.

Lockheed would not provide details or speculate on the cause, citing an ongoing inquiry into what went wrong.

Three missiles apparently missed the target area entirely and one hit pay dirt but failed to detonate properly.

"If you're a JASSM supporter, this could not have come out at a worse time," noted Christopher Hellman, a defense analyst for the Center for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

Cost overruns have already put the program on the Pentagon's "problem child" list: Last month, military officials included JASSM among eight weapons programs that were running as much as 50 percent over original cost projections.

Those Nunn-McCurdy violations, as they're called, require the Pentagon to notify Congress of the excessive cost-overruns, which could lead to the programs being canceled

The cost overruns were "triggered by a variety of factors," including the addition of an extended-range version of the missile, which more than doubled the number of missiles to be bought, Lockheed said.

This is what happens when you combine a low-cost ($400k/missile) weapon with high-cost requirements (stealth, standoff, precision guidance). The Air Force has to learn that they can't wage precision warfare on the cheap and also expect to buy high reliability.

There are two ironies in this situation:

1) JASSM used to be the poster-child for the late-1990s version of acquisition reform, which also gave us the now-discredited C-130J commercial contract and, (drum-roll ...) the scandal of the KC-X tanker lease deal.

2) The JASSM program was launched after the Tri-Service Standoff Attack Missile, or TSSAM, was cancelled because of its (drum-roll...) high-cost.

It's also become evident that the baseline JASSM missile's 250-mile-or-so range means that the launching aircraft must come within the engagement zone of the S400 surface-to-air missile system, meaning that the act of launching the missile may become something of a suicide mission for the lucky pilot.

The S400 is the latest version of Russia's robust SAM technology.

The JASSM-ER is necessary to ensure that a strike on a target protected by the S400 is a success.

That doesn't mean the JASSM is useless, but merely limited -- in addition to having what appears to be a chronic reliability problem.

-- Stephen Trimble

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