Magazine article National Defense

Pentagon Review Approaching for Army-Navy Air-to-Ground Missile

Magazine article National Defense

Pentagon Review Approaching for Army-Navy Air-to-Ground Missile

Article excerpt

Proponents of joint-service weapon programs will be watching closely the outcome of an upcoming Pentagon review for a new air-to-ground missile, to be launched from Army, Marine Corps and Navy aircraft.

If the Defense Department's top procurement authorities give the program the green light later this month, the Army will select a contractor to begin developing the "joint common missile," a sophisticated weapon that not only must operate with multiple services' aircraft, but also must pack--in a relatively small missile three different types of guidance systems. The JCM is intended to replace the battle-tested Hellfire and Maverick missiles.

The Army originally had planned to award a contract a year ago, but the program was held up both by bureaucratic delays and concerns about costs. The Army's director of force development, Maj. Gen. James J. Grazioplene, recently told industry officials that be feared the joint common missile would be too expensive, after having seen estimates that ranged from $400,000 to $600,000 per missile. According to his assessment, only after six years and more than 40,000 missiles in production would the price tag drop to a more acceptable $100,000. To make the missile more affordable, he said, the Army may consider downgrading the tri-mode seeker to a dual-mode system, he added. "If we are not careful, we'll ask too much from one missile."

The entire project could be worth $5 billion, assuming the services buy at least 54,000 missiles.

The Army said it wants to keep the per-unit cost for JCM at approximately $100,000. By comparison, the current laser-guided Hellfire costs about $60,000, and the radar-guided Longbow Hellfire is approximately $150,000 per unit. Industry sources said the JCM could be produced for less than $100,000.

The tri-mode seeker will package a semi-active laser, a millimeter-wave radar mad a heat-seeking infrared sensor. Current Hellfire missiles are either laser-guided or millimeter-wave radar guided. The Maverick is a heat-seeking missile that uses infrared and TV sensors to locate the target.

Each of the three guidance technologies--laser, millimeter-wave radar and infrared--has been employed for years, in various weapons. Mixing all three in a small enough package to fit on the nose of a 108-pound missile is technically complex, but achievable, experts said. …

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