Company warns AGM-158 programme could run into "catastrophe" unless US government funding cuts are reversed

Lockheed Martin is warning of a possible "catastrophe" for the AGM-158 JASSM cruise missile programme unless funding cut by the US House of Representatives is restored. Meanwhile, senior US defence officials are quietly considering the MBDA Storm Shadow missile after its recent success in Iraq.

The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) has voted to reduce JASSM funding from the requested $102.5 million to $56 million and to slash the first year's full-rate production by more than half, from 250 to 100 missiles.

"That level of cut would be a catastrophe to this programme… This will not just slow down the programme, it will have unintended consequences," says Randy Bigum, Lockheed Martin strike weapons vice-president.

The HAC's action follows a number of development and operational test failures since last year, leading to the committee reducing the initial planned purchase to minimise post-production modifications.

In response, Lockheed Martin says that of 33 JASSM launches to date, "only five missile issues" have been identified and fixes have been incorporated into the first low-rate initial production batch now being delivered.

Production cuts threaten to undermine an air force deal to buy 2,400 missiles at a $400,000 agreed average unit price. In addition, the HAC has approved only $10 million of a requested $31 million to begin development of an extended-range JASSM, which will have a new powerplant and a threefold increase in the existing weapon's 370km (200nm) range. "The committee believes it is premature to increase development to such a large degree while there is uncertainty about the baseline weapon," says the HAC report.

Lockheed Martin increased production in the run-up to the Iraq war, but unlike Storm Shadow, JASSM was not deployed.

US officials are understood to have been impressed by Storm Shadow, which offers high attack angles and hardened target penetration. JASSM is limited to a 450kg (1,000lb) blast/fragmentation warhead.

"The US military have seen the missile not only at the China Lake test range, but now in the Gulf," says an industry source. Storm Shadow is not regarded as an alternative to the smaller and stealthier JASSM, but as complementary.

The only weapon that has a similar capability to Storm Shadow is the Boeing Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missile, which is no longer in production.

Source: Flight International