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USAF re-certifies JASSM programme after 11-month hiatus

The US Air Force today re-certified the acquisition programme for a stealthy cruise missile after an almost 11-month hiatus while Lockheed Martin worked to resolve chronic reliability problems.

The USAF will award the Lot 7 procurement contract in June for about 115 AGM-158 joint air-to-surface standoff missiles (JASSMs). The USAF also has negotiated a price limit for the Lot 8 contract.

Re-certification also means the Lockheed can continue working on two new variants. Development will resume in June on an extended-range version that at least doubles the missile’s range to beyond 500nm. Lockheed also is now scheduled to start developing a maritime variant of JASSM in 2010.

The status of Australia’s JASSM order was not immediately clear on Friday afternoon.

The 11-month hiatus began last June after the USAF refused to re-certify the JASSM programme after acquisition costs rose by more than 25 percent.

Chronic reliability problems led to failures on 42 percent of all JASSM test flights, according to USAF officials.

At the time, Lockheed’s philosophy for fixing the problems differed from that of its customer. The USAF wanted Lockheed to propose a comprehensive solution for the reliability problems, while the contractor wanted to fix each new issue as it appeared, a senior defence official said.

USAF officials briefly considered alternatives to the JASSM platform, including an air-launched version of the Raytheon BGM-109 Tomahawk missile.

In the end, Lockheed validated JASSM’s improved reliability in a series of successful flight test shots, regaining the USAF’s support for continuing the programme.

“The Air Force is confident that the JASSM is a very capable, reliable, and cost-effective missile,” the service arm said in a statement issued today.

Lockheed officials were not immediately available for comment.

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