Surface Forces: March 31, 2004


For the last three years, the U.S. Navy has been building and testing a low cost ($45,000 each) cruise missile called "The Affordable Weapon." But now the navy wants to make a few improvements that would increase the cost to $225,000 per missile. This has raised some hackles in the navy and in Congress. The Affordable Weapon, as it currently stands, has a range of 1,100 kilometers and carries a 200 pound warhead. The missile is transported in a sealed container, from which it is launched via a small rocket motor. After that, a small jet engine propels it. Using off-the-shelf components, the missile is seen as a cheaper alternative for missions that do not require the much more expensive ($1.4 million each) Tomahawk cruise missile. In fact, The Affordable Weapon is about the same size as the Tomahawk, with a shorter range and smaller warhead. 

The missile can circle around an area for up to four hours, until a GPS target location is transmitted to it. The missile uses GPS for navigation and finding its target. But now the navy wants to add a $150,000 guidance system, that will provide pinpoint accuracy, and a $30,000 anti-corrosion treatment to the missile to make it more resistant to salt water corrosion. While the idea of installing a guidance system that costs more than the missile seems outrageous, it is not unusual. In many missiles, the most expensive element is the electronics. JDAM, the GPS guided "smart bombs", get that way by adding a guidance kit to an ordinary "dumb bomb." The guidance kit costs over $15,000, more than ten times the cost of the dumb bomb (a metal container filled with explosives, identical to the ones used during World War II) itself. Most of the cost of the guidance kit is in the electronics. Moreover, The Affordable Weapon can be used with a variety of warheads; either the current low cost one, or the high priced one if a pinpoint target has to be taken out.




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