US May Ramp Up Buy of the Missile That Just Made Combat Debut in Syria

A Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile - Extended Range (JASSM-ER) is released from B-1 bomber. (USAF Courtesy Photo)
A Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile - Extended Range (JASSM-ER) is released from B-1 bomber. (USAF Courtesy Photo)

Editor's Note: On April 19, U.S. Air Forces Central Command released new information contradicting previous Defense Department statements of the use of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile - Extended Range in the strikes on Syria.

The missiles launched from B-1 Lancer Bombers during the strikes were "JASSM-A, or the standard, non-extended range versions of the munition," AFCENT spokesman Capt. Mark Graff said.

Graff said the strikes did represent the first operational use of any JASSM variant.

The extended-range version of Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile made its combat debut in Syria over the weekend after a pair of B-1B Lancer bombers struck a chemical weapons science lab near Damascus.

The JASSM-ER -- ER for "extended range" -- can strike its target from roughly 600 miles, more than double than the earlier JASSM version, also made by Lockheed. The bombers launched 19 missiles, which cost about $1.4 million each, according to a 2010 Government Accountability Office estimate.

As plans were still unfolding on whether or not the United States was going to strike Syria in response to the regime's continued use of chemical weapons, executives already anticipated a ramp-up in procurement from the services for the low-observable, long-range, precision-guided missile.

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"The Air Force has an operational requirement for 4,900 missiles" across its inventory, said Alan Jackson, Lockheed's vice president of strike systems.

Military.com sat down with Jackson during the annual Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Maryland, in days preceding the Syria strike.

"There's even some talk within the Air Force they may increase the operational need," Jackson said April 10. "We'll standby for any further word," he continued, adding Lockheed has delivered roughly 2,200 missiles to date.

The Air Force is "looking for a capability to get more ERs out there," he said. "The more platforms you have to go deliver the weapon, the better."

Aside from the B-1, the JASSM-ER is carried by the F-15E Strike Eagle.

Lockheed is working to fully incorporate JASSM-ER on the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the B-52 Stratofortress bomber; the ER technology still has "additional integration tasks" to complete for these fighter and bomber platforms, with a final upgrade expected to be complete by the end of this year, Jackson said.

"Since the baseline version of JASSM is already fielded, this is a relatively brief and quick program," he said.

The extended-range missile -- a 1,000-pound warhead, with pinpoint accuracy, an infrared sensor and both GPS and anti-jam navigation -- is capable of taking out moving land-based targets. (JASSM-ER's cousin, the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), is currently being tested on the B-1, and is expected to have a live missile test off of an F/A-18 Super Hornet later this year).

JASSM-ER also helps prolong the life of fourth-generation aircraft like the B-1B in a contested fight; while the strategic bomber may have a reduced radar cross section, it isn't stealthy.

The missile offers a higher survivability rate due to it its low-observable technology.

"I think the key is flexibility -- the ability to engage relocatable targets, mobile air defense system[s] in particular ... and those are prevalent throughout the world," Jackson said, referring to surface-to-air missiles.

 

Future upgrades are retrofittable, he said. The Air Force is "planning on continuing the JASSM-ER with a few modifications in the future," Jackson said.

For example, the service is looking for new wings on JASSM-ER to give it efficient extended range and a next-generation GPS receiver.

"The added sweet spot that we're looking for is the added capacity, capability at a lower cost," Jackson said, without specifying exact costs.

"Our objective is to provide more at a lower cost for the services," he said.

Following the Syria strike on April 14, Lockheed said it's ready to offer the systems for the Defense Department's operational need.

"While we do not comment on the nature or circumstances of those operations, we stand ready to assist our customers in their efforts worldwide," spokesman Joseph Monaghen told Military.com on Monday. "Lockheed Martin is proud to partner with the DoD to equip them with advanced weapon systems such as JASSM to conduct effective operations."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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