Procurement: October 10, 2000

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The Air Force and Navy know that they need a firm upgrade path for their air-to-ground precision-guided weapons in order to keep ahead of any enemy. The problem is that these upgrades keep getting canceled by Congress or by the civilian leadership in the Pentagon to save money. Another problem is the fear of how either of those bodies would react to an upgrade plan. The Air Force wants to upgrade the Joint Direct Attack Munition with a new seeker (increasing average accuracy from 1m to 30cm) and a wing (tripling the range). The problem is that upgrades are expensive and the uniformed services are concerned that if they are approved the total number of weapons purchased might be cut drastically. One major concern of strike planners is that virtually all US weapons now rely on GPS satellite guidance since laser-designation requires the aircraft to get closer to the target and the laser beam could be blocked by clouds or even smoke generators. The problem is that GPS is incredibly simple to jam and future enemies would be fools not to surround all of their worthwhile targets with cheap jammers that keep the weapons from reading GPS signals. Industry wants to sell the Pentagon jam-resistant GPS receivers, but these cost more than the missiles and bombs they could guide. All of the GPS weapons have back-up inertial guidance systems that are less accurate than GPS but still far better than "dumb" bombs, and the Air Force thinks it would be cheaper to use two bombs than a single bomb with an expensive jammer. This would, however, mean that more missions had to be flown and the Air Force is trying to find ways for its new F-22 and JSF fighters to attack more targets with the much smaller bombloads that will fit into their stealthy internal weapons bays. The Air Force has already approved installing JDAM guidance kits on smaller 500-pound bombs so that aircraft can carry more weapons (which would, conveniently, have smaller collateral blast zones that might injure civilians and look bad on television).--Stephen V Cole

 


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