The US Air Force is being forced to revamp the $3 billion Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile (JASSM) programme because of funding cuts. The move comes against the background of US Navy disenchantment with the project.

The USAF has presented senior Department of Defense (DoD) officials with a revised JASSM strategy, which it believes can accommodate a $75 million cut in the fiscal year 1998 budget from the $203 million requested for the programme.

Support for the JASSM has waned within the USN, which is backing procurement of the Boeing AGM-84H SLAM-ER fitted with an in-development automatic target-recognition system (SLAM-ER Plus).

The USN says that the alternative weapon is cheaper, yet effective. JASSM programme director Terry Little defends his project, however, saying that "the SLAM-ER Plus is no bargain".

It is hoped that the issue of continuing USN participation will be settled through an independent "analysis of alternatives", due to be completed in early April 1998.

Little also notes that the JASSM unit-cost goal, which is based on a USAF purchase of 2,400 missiles, is achievable even without USN participation.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin are two-thirds of the way through the 24-month programme-definition and risk-reduction (PDRR) phase of the joint USAF/Navy project. Under the original schedule, one of the contractors would have been picked in August 1998 to begin the 32-month engineering-and manufacturing-development (EMD) phase. Initial flight testing would have preceded the selection.

Little proposes to select the JASSM winner in March or April, before flight tests, and to slip the start of EMD by three to four months, to around November. The USAF would then cut spending by eliminating one competitor before the end of the PDRR phase.

Stretching the programme-definition phase until November reduces risk to an acceptable level, adds Little, and pushes EMD into the next fiscal year. "Our judgement is that this is not an imprudent thing to do," he says.

Little says that both competitors have built JASSM prototypes, to prove that they do not exceed the threshold average unit price of $700,000 per missile. Little expects both companies to achieve the ultimate unit-cost goal of $400,000.

Source: Flight International