Lockheed Martin said it has invested tens of millions of dollars to improve the reliability of its troubled JASSM cruise missile ahead of tests that could make or break the future of the $6 billion (R48 billion) program.
Christopher Kubasik, who runs the Lockheed sector that includes missile programs, told Reuters the company had “made a significant financial contribution to increase the reliability of this program.” He gave no specific sum but said the numbers were in the tens of millions of dollars.
Lockheed’s goal was for the radar-evading Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile to succeed in at least 13 of 16 tests of the seventh production lot of the missiles, Kubasik said in an interview this week.
“Those tests will be critical to the future of the program,” he said.
JASSM is a long-range, conventional, precision missile designed to destroy fixed and moving targets.
US Air Force officials said in May they could cancel the program after years of repeated technical problems if the tests did not show a marked improvement in missile reliability.
Air Force spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Karen Platt said the service aimed to complete the testing this fall.
She said the overall reliability of the missile had reached 79 %, and production lot 6, with certain fixes implemented, was projected to be 86.2 % reliable, up from a reliability rate of 82.6 % for the previous lot.
The missile was “on track” to satisfy the Pentagon’s requirement that it achieve a 90 % reliability rate by production lot 11, Platt said.
Heather Kelly, a Lockheed spokesperson, said the company remained committed to the success of the program.
“We understand the criticality of the upcoming tests and are confident that the missiles will meet the new reliability requirements,” she said. Specific testing dates were classified, but they would be conducted at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, she said.
The weapon was declared combat-ready five years ago and has been deployed despite several testing failures, but it is facing tougher scrutiny now that the Pentagon is reexamining weapons programs with cost overruns and technical problems.
Four JASSM missiles tested in November, January and February did not detonate on impact or had other problems, raising fresh questions about the program.
Lockheed last month said its improvements including swapping out some components on missiles already delivered to the Air Force and implementing design changes to more fully automate production of component parts.
Defense experts said the JASSM program ran into trouble partly because the Pentagon increased its reliability expectations for the missile after the program began.
Retrofitting the missile turned out to be expensive and time-consuming, and it might have been easier to “start from scratch” on a new program, experts said, but the Pentagon was reluctant to accept the delay such a move would have caused.
The drive to increase the success rate of the missile does seem a bit at odds with an edict from Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the military sometimes accept 75 % olutions rather than spend extra money to get to a 90 % solution.
Pic: JASSM cruise missile