May 18, 2007:
The U.S. Air Force recently tested
four of its new JASSM cruise missiles. All four failed the test. This might be
the end of JASSM, which keeps getting more expensive and less reliable.
JASSM is the third family of GPS guided smart bombs
to be developed. The original JDAM bomb kit (added to 500, 1,000 and 2,000
pound bombs), cost $26,000 each. The longer range JSOW (JDAM with wings and
more powerful guidance system), cost $460,000 each. The even longer range JASSM
cost $500,000 (the 400 kilometers version) to $930,000 (the 900 kilometer JASSM
ER) each. Then there is the SDB (Small Diameter Bomb), a 250 pound JDAM that
can also punch through concrete bunkers and other structures. These cost
The AGM-158 JASSM missiles are 2,300 pound weapons
that are basically 1,000 pound JDAMS (GPS guided bombs) with a motor added.
JASSM was designed to go after enemy air defense systems, or targets deep in
heavily defended (against air attack) enemy territory. The air force and navy
planed to buy over 5,000 JASSM, but there has been opposition in the military
and in Congress. The missiles are ten times as expensive than a JADM bomb of
the same weight. But the aviators make the argument that many aircraft and
pilots would be lost if the air defenses of a nation like, perhaps China, were
attacked without using JASSM.
The U.S. Air Force ordered the AGM-158 JASSM into
full production in early 2004. But only a few have been produced, because of
test failures. Air force purchasing plans have been cut way back because of
reliability problems, and this has delayed shipment of the missiles to combat
units until 2008.
JASSM is stealthy and uses GPS and terminal
(infrared) guidance to zero in on heavily defended targets (like air defense
sites.) The terminal guidance enables the missile to land within ten feet of
the aiming point. If there were a war with North Korea, for example, JASSM
would be essential to taking out enemy air defenses, or any other targets that
have to be hit early in a war (before air defenses can be shut down.) JASSM was
designed to handle the most modern Russian surface to air missiles, which are
being sold to China. North Korea has older stuff, and can't afford the newer
Russian SAMs. But even these older air defenses can be dangerous, and are best
addressed with long range missiles.
Reliability and cost problems caused Congress to
cut back on money for JASSM. There's also been no opportunity to use JASSM in
the war on terror. So, with the recent test failures, it looks like the navy proposal,
to use their SLAM ER (280 kilometer range, 500-pound warhead, costing half a
million dollars each) instead, may be accepted. SLAM ER has been very reliable.