Ramon Lopez/ORLANDO

Lockheed Martin officials are preparing for the first flight test of the stealthy Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile (JASSM), planned for early March.

The evaluation of the JASSM, which bears the US military designation AGM-158, will take place at an undisclosed US military test range, say project officials.

The critical test will involve an unpowered prototype JASSM, built on production tooling. The trial, in which the missile is likely to be launched from a Lockheed Martin F-16, is designed to validate the missile's aerodynamic qualities.

The US Air Force plans to conduct the JASSM's first powered flight several months later, using a production-representative vehicle. The third flight of a complete missile is expected to be conducted in the third quarter of this year.

Lockheed Martin expects to earn more than $2 billion for supplying 2,400 AGM-158s to the USAF and, eventually, the US Navy, which has agreed to buy an undisclosed number. For the time being, the USN has elected to upgrade 700 Boeing AGM-84H SLAM-ER missiles, despite the fact that the JASSM was found to be cheaper and more capable than the SLAM, fitted with an in-development automatic target acquisition system (SLAM-ER-Plus).

Now in engineering and manufacturing development, limited production of the JASSM is set to begin in January 2001, with annual peak production reaching 360. Initial production missiles will roll off the the company's plant at Troy, Alabama, by November.

The USAF is buying the first five JASSM production lots at an average unit price of $275,000, 40% below the $400,000 target price. The price would go up to $302,000 thereafter. Industry officials say the USN is "hedging its bets" until the JASSM successfully completes flight testing.

Late last year, the JASSM completed a series of catapult-assisted launches and arrested-landing flight tests and jettison tests.

n The Raytheon Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) was used operationally for the first time on 24 January, according to the manufacturer, when a US Navy Boeing F/A-18 Hornet attacked an Iraqi air-defence site during a patrol over the no-fly zone.

Source: Flight International