Raytheon test fires precision missile at White Sands range

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Raytheon has test fired an air-launched variant of the US Army’s developmental Precision Attack Missile (PAM) in an effort to demonstrate a cheaper and largely off-the-shelf alternative to Lockheed Martin’s Joint Common Missile (JCM). The first of two test firings of the Precision Attack Air-to-Surface Missile (PAASM) took place from an unmanned Bell UH-1 utility helicopter at the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico on 13 December.

Raytheon hopes to prove to army officials that its missile can strike moving armoured targets in all weather as effectively as the JCM, which has been portrayed by Department of Defense officials as unnecessary and overly expensive and has faced a termination threat since December 2004. Supporters in Congress have, however, proposed restoring about $28 million for the JCM in the fiscal year 2006 budget.

Raytheon is hedging its bets that the army will decide to seek an alternative to the JCM anyway by funding an upgrade to the AGM-114 Hellfire or acquiring a modified version of an off-the-shelf missile like PAASM, says Steve Ignat, the company’s business development director for land warfare programmes.

The PAASM will be markedly similar to the army’s variable thrust motor-powered PAM weapon, which is scheduled to enter production after 2008. This will have a 20km (10.8nm) range when fired from a helicopter or a 40km maximum when launched from a ground vehicle.

The PAASM seeker would include advanced millimetre-wave and semi-active laser modes and would also receive high-resolution imagery from the Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopter’s advanced forward-looking infrared sensor before launch, says Ignat.

STEPHEN TRIMBLE/WASHINGTON DC