The US Army has proven in a recent live-fire test that a MQ-1 Gray Eagle with a Lockheed Martin joint air to ground missile (JAGM) can beat the capability offered today by the AGM-114 Hellfire against moving targets.

The General Atomics Aeronautics Systems (GAAS)-build unmanned air system (UAS) successfully tracked and engaged a pick-up truck moving at 20mph on Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, using the dual-mode seeker on the JAGM, says Col James Romero, Joint Tactical Munitions project manager.

An MQ-1 platform, which includes the US Air Force’s Predator, requires an operator with great skill to a hit a moving target with a Hellfire missile, Romero says. But the latest live fire test at Dugway shows the JAGM should be far more reliable as a weapon against mobile targets.

“For Hellfire to hit a moving target from a Predator platform is highly dependent on the skill of the operator and manoeuvrability of that moving target and the latency of Predator platform itself,” Robero says. “[The JAGM] will essentially give an assured strike or hit on a moving target every time.”

The test also marked the first airborne launch of a JAGM missile during the 10-month old engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the $1.5 billion programme. The army also has performed six more ground-launch tests of the JAGM, with all seven shots so far hitting the target, Romero says.

Although involved in early testing, the Gray Eagle is still years away from full integration with JAGM. The army’s priority is to qualify the missile first on the Boeing AH-64 Apache and US Marine Corps Bell Helicopter AH-1Z Viper helicopters. A series of 48 live fire tests on both platforms is scheduled to begin by the end of the year, Romero says. The MQ-1C integration would come after both helicopters are declared operations, which is now scheduled in September 2018, according to the US Government Accountability Office.

The army awarded the EMD contract to Lockheed last August after receiving only one bid. Raytheon had declined to offer a competing missile with a tri-mode seeker, saying the army’s evaluation offered no credit for the additional capability offered by integrating a third seeker.

In the recent Dugway test, the Lockheed JAGM’s dual-mode seeker performed “perfectly,” Romero says. The test was conducted on a clear day with no atmospheric distortions or countermeasures used, he adds.