Joint Air-to-Ground Missile Program Inches Forward

By Valerie Insinna
Lockheed Martin’s replacement for the Hellfire missile hit a milestone in February, when the company demonstrated that the dual mode guidance section on its Joint Air-to-Ground Missile could engage targets with a laser.

“We had a moving target out at about six kilometers. We acquired that target, engaged it with the semi-active laser sensor [and] collected radar data all the way to the target,” said Frank St. John, the company’s vice president of tactical missiles and combat maneuver systems.

JAGM will be deployed from rotary wing aircraft and unmanned aerial systems. The “dual” part of the guidance section alludes to the fact that the missile can use both a laser and radar to track and hit a target. Lockheed’s next demonstration will involve testing the radar capability.

It’s a “similar test scenario using a different mode of the sensor,” St. John said. “We’ll be flying the radar all the way to impact as opposed to using the laser all the way to impact.”

The February test was funded by Lockheed to reduce risk as the system heads into component qualification, where the Army will test the guidance section’s hardware against different temperatures and vibrations to ensure they are working properly, he said.

Qualifying the guidance section’s components, and then later the system itself, is part of the company’s $60 million continued technology development contract with the Army.  

After that ends this year, there will be a milestone decision resulting in low rate initial production, St. John said.

Today, the majority of missile engagements are carried out using laser-designated targets. Having a radar guidance capability will be important in the future, as battlefields become less permissive, he said.

The military has a long history of trying — and failing — to replace the Hellfire. The effort originated as the joint common missile, which was canceled in 2007. A request for proposals for JAGM was released shortly afterwards. The Navy and Marine Corps initially also planned to acquire the missile, but in 2012 they withdrew from the program.

Lockheed is currently the only company receiving money from the Defense Department for its JAGM design. A team of Raytheon and Boeing started as competitors to Lockheed but were dropped in 2013 during the technology development phase.

MBDA Missile Systems intends to market its Brimstone missile as an alternative to Lockheed’s, MBDA officials have said. The European company recently set up an office in Huntsville, Ala.

The Brimstone missile is already in use by the U.K. Royal Air Force, Doug Denneny, vice president of MBDA’s U.S. subsidiary, told National Defense in November.

Topics: Business Trends, Missile Defense

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