The US Army has launched the bidding phase of a decade-old programme to replace the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire missile with a new weapon featuring a dual-mode guidance system.

A request for proposals released on 2 February for the joint air-to-ground missile (JAGM) contract gives potential competitors Lockheed and Raytheon up to 60 days to submit bids to the army. The navy also plans to integrate JAGM onto the Marine Corps' Bell AH-1Z attack helicopters.

The programme seeks an upgrade to the guidance section of the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire missile’s backend, which is comprised of the motor, warhead and associated electronics. Lockheed has committed to offering a dual-mode seeker, while Raytheon has not yet committed to competing for the contract.

"If we bid, we will offer a tri-mode seeker based on the hardware being proven today in small diameter bomb II (SBD) engineering, manufacturing and development," says Raytheon spokesman John Patterson.

Lockheed has courted the JAGM contract for a decade without the army biting on any of its proposals. Still the company has continued development of a JAGM offering it plans to propose in response to the recent RFP, says Frank St. John, vice-president of tactical missiles and combat manoeuvre systems.

Upgrades to the Hellfire’s seeker include an improved semi-active laser sensor for precision-strike and a fire-and-forget millimeter wave radar for moving targets in all-weather conditions, Lockheed says. Raytheon would offer a seeker that includes imaging infrared as a third sensor mode.

JAGM began in 2003 as the joint common missile (JCM). Raytheon, Lockheed and a Boeing/Northrop Grumman team vied for the contract to produce 77,000 JCMs that would have replaced the Raytheon AGM-65 Maverick and Hellfire.

The JCM programme was expected to undergo a four-year system development and demonstration phase beginning with a 2004 contract award to Lockheed Martin, but came to nothing. The army formally canceled JCM in 2007. Lockheed was subsequently awarded a continued technology development contract in 2012 to complete design, test and demonstration of its JAGM guidance section. That contract was renewed in 2013.