Boeing has raised a completely new option for the US Air Force to overcome cost and reliability issues with a competitor's cruise missile programme.

The contractor recommends that production of the Lockheed Martin AGM-158 Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) be turned over for competition, according to a statement released to Flight International.

"We believe the best path toward that success is to recompete the JASSM configuration and in doing so address both reliability and the cost growth associated with the current programme," Boeing says.

The USAF last month launched a $68 million programme to fix a chronic quality issue with the Lockheed Martin AGM-158 JASSM, with Lockheed contributing $38 million of the investment.

However, service officials have retained the option of seeking different alternatives to JASSM after March 2008 if improvement is not made.

The Lockheed missile programme has posted a 58% reliability record in development and operational tests, compared to the air force's requirement for a 75% record.

The air force has discussed options to replace JASSM with either a new air-launched version of the Raytheon BGM-109 Tomahawk, the Boeing AGM-84H Standoff Land Attack Missile - Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) or the MBDA Storm Shadow.

Boeing says it can offer the SLAM-ER or the Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missile to meet the USAF's immediate needs. However, the company believes that JASSM is "critical to national defence and we would like to see it succeed".

Boeing also notes that the same approach was used for both the Advanced Cruise Missile and Tomahawk missile programmes "with good results".

"This approach preserves the USAF's $1.5 billion investment in JASSM and best serves the war fighter's needs," the company says.

Source: Flight International