Air Weapons: May 9, 2004


The U.S. Department of Defense has selected Lockheed-Martin corporation to build over 50,000 new missiles to replace roughly the same number of existing Hellfire air-to-ground missiles. The new weapon, called the Joint Common Missile (JCM), will enter service in six years. The JCM was designed to deal with the different requirements of all three services, as well as being able to operate, without modification, from both helicopters and airplanes. 

JCM completed several successful flight tests in the last few months. Development began in 2001, and most of the early testing was done using computer simulation. This proved successful when the first missiles were actually fired. This extensive use of simulation was a first for missile design.

JCM uses three different sensors to find its target (homing on reflected laser light, heat imaging and radar). This makes it possible for the missile to be used at night and in any weather. The JCM warhead has a multi-purpose warhead that uses both a shaped charge for armor penetration, and a fragmentation explosive to destroy ships and buildings. 

The JCM is replacing the hundred pound Hellfire missile, which entered service in 1985, although it had its first guided launch in 1978. Initially, Hellfire used a laser seeker (homing on laser light reflected off a target by a laser designator on the ground, or the aircraft carrying the missile). The Hellfire has a range of nine kilometers, while the JCM will reach out 16 kilometers when launched from helicopters and 28 kilometers when fired from jets. The JCM will weigh as much as the current Hellfire models (108 pounds) and be the same size (70 inches long and seven in diameter.) The JCM will have a shelf life of ten years. After that, unused missiles will have to be refurbished. Each JCM will cost about $100,000. Since 1985, some 76,000 Hellfire missiles have been built, many for export. 


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