Air Weapons: JSOW Finds A Purpose


September 9, 2016: In March 2016 the U.S. Navy declared the AGM-154C1 JSOW (Joint Stand Off Weapon) ready for use. This comes after more than a decade of development, testing and tweaking to get a version of JSOW that could reliably hit moving ships. JSOW development began in the 1990s and initially used GPS. There was not much demand for this version and the U.S. Air Force lost interest entirely and the navy continued alone.

JSOW is basically a smart bomb with wings. That enables it to glide up to 70 kilometers from the aircraft dropping it, to a target on the ground. Range is about 25 kilometers if dropped from low altitude. JSOW also contains more elaborate fins and software that enables it to follow a specific route. Like the wingless JDAM smart bomb, JSOW was designed to use GPS and inertial guidance (as a backup) to find its target. Like JDAM, JSOW will hit within 10 meters (32 feet) of its aiming point.

The AGM-154C1 carries a 361 kg (794 pound) warhead that can penetrate concrete or earth before detonating the high explosives it carries. This model contains a video link that allows for hitting very small targets (like going through a window). The C1 version is also able to hit moving targets.

JSOW was designed to provide a standoff weapon that allowed a target to be hit without the launching aircraft getting within range of enemy anti-aircraft defenses (mainly missiles.) Some JSOW were used in Iraq (between 1999 and 2003) and Afghanistan (2001). But in most cases, the much cheaper JDAM does the job just as well for about one tenth the cost. It was argued that against a better equipped foe, like China, Syria, Iran or North Korea JSOW would be more useful. That was not enough and the only thing that saved JSOW was the addition of a two-way data link and a more accurate guidance system for when JSOW was going after a smaller, especially moving, target.


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