Additional reporting by Peter La Franchi in London

Australia will take delivery of baseline AGM-158 JASSM stand-off missiles from Lockheed Martin's US production line from late 2009, under the A$300 million ($230 million) deal finalised earlier this month.

Taking unmodified missiles off the existing assembly line in Troy, Alabama, will enable the Royal Australian Air Force to achieve initial operational capability on its Boeing F-18A/Bs in 2010, says Casey Contini, Lockheed's director, international JASSM programmes.

Deliveries will continue until 2011, with later missiles to incorporate the maritime interdiction and weapon datalink modifications required by Australia, says Contini. The maritime strike mode is a software change, he says, while the two-way datalink enabling man-in-the-loop control of the missile will replace the existing one-way bomb impact assessment link. Both upgrades are already being developed for the US Air Force's extended-range JASSM-ER, he says.

The programme cost is split roughly equally between a government-to-government foreign military sales component covering supply of the missiles and modification of the F/A-18's operational flight programme software system to integrate the weapon, and a commercial deal under which Lockheed will support testing, training and logistics. Australia will conduct its own clearance testing of the missile on the F/A-18, says Contini.

Another RAAF F/A-18 upgrade is moving ahead with initial clearance to fly with Northrop Grumman's Litening targeting pod on the port fuselage station expected in October. Clearance to move the pod to the inlet, or "shoulder" station, freeing up the centreline pylon for a fuel tank or other store, has required additional flight testing because of load issues, says the US Navy.

To support operations in Iraq, the US Marine Corps requested a quick-reaction modification to carry the Litening on the centreline station while flight testing of a "left-handed" pod on a shoulder pylon continued. Clearance is expected next month, when the RAAF is to begin taking delivery of Litening AT pods for its F/A-18s.

■ Australia's Defence Science and Technology Organisation last month conducted initial flight tests of an extended-range version of Boeing's Joint Direct Attack Munition GPS-guided bomb equipped with a wing kit developed locally by Hawker de Havilland.

Source: Flight International