Lethal, Versatile, Affordable

By Frank Colucci | November 1, 2009
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The next-generation missile to arm United States combat helicopters, tactical jets and UAVs will leverage evolutionary improvements in seeker, fuze and control technology.

The Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM), now under development by competing industry teams, will replace today’s Hellfire, TOW and Maverick missiles. It will give U.S. Army Apache Longbows, Marine Zulu Cobras, Navy Super Hornets and follow-on platforms an interoperable, precision-guided weapon to engage armored and "soft" targets at greater ranges through battlefield obscurants or countermeasures. In contrast to today’s menu of specialized missiles, the versatile new weapon will switch seeker modes, warhead fuzing and flight profiles to suit the engagement.

Lt. Col. Robert Barrie, JAGM program manager with the Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM), noted that unlike today’s family of Hellfire models, "There’s not a JAGM K, L, M and R; it’s just JAGM — one missile."

JAGM plans now call for Initial Operational Capability on the Army’s AH-64D, Marine Corps AH-1Z and Navy F-18E/F in 2016, followed in 2017 by the Navy MH-60R Seahawk and Army MQ-1C Sky Warrior UAV. JAGM is the notional replacement for the Army’s canceled ARH-70A Arapaho helicopter, and other platforms are expected to extend their reach and improve their survivability with the new missile.

Maximum missile range from rotary-wing aircraft will be up to 16 km, twice that of today’s Hellfire. Fixed-wing range to 28 km will be marginally greater than that of today’s Maverick in a package about one-fifth the weight of the laser-guided AGM-65E. To fit existing helicopters, JAGM has to integrate its longer-range rocket motor, multi-purpose warhead and more capable electronics in a round about the same size and weight as today’s 7-inch-diameter Hellfire.

Equally challenging, the new missile has to work with the hardware and software of different launch platforms. "JAGM will be 100 percent compatible with the systems as they stand today," said Barrie. Nevertheless, he added, "There may be changes that are required on the platform side to get the full capabilities of JAGM."

The new missile will, for example, provide 360-degree capability to shoot fixed, moving and relocatable targets at any launch azimuth. It will fly to a programmed point for lock-on after launch with its Semi-Active Laser/Imaging InfraRed/Millimeter Wave radar (SAL/IR/MMW) seeker. With an open system architecture, the smart, modular weapon is meant to evolve even further. "We’ve designed for production improvements in increments over time, so we’re not doing a ‘stovepipe’ design," Barrie said.

As JAGM lead service, the Army relies on a Joint Interface Control Working Group to mate the missile with multiple platforms and incorporate requirements from the Navy Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons. "Management of that is quite challenging," Barrie acknowledged. "We do look at it as a system solution, so there’s not a one-each piece of the design. The F-18 portion of the requirement is uniquely Navy, but we truly do look at it as ‘purple.’"

AMCOM last September awarded a Raytheon-Boeing team and Lockheed Martin 27-month JAGM technology development (TD) contracts. Competitors will each build six prototype missiles — three for ground-launched government testing and three spares.

To maximize cost competition and reduce development risk, the TD strategy takes both contractors through preliminary design reviews and ultimately down-selects a winner for System Development and Demonstration, Engineering and Manufacturing Development, and Low Rate Initial Production phases. Target price for the production JAGM is $100,000 to $120,000 per missile.

A full-rate production decision requires JAGM be operational on the three threshold platforms. Raytheon JAGM business development manager Michael Riley observed, "This is as much a systems solution as a missiles solution. It’s easy to build a missile; it’s difficult to integrate the system on six different platforms."

The stakes for industry are high. "This will probably be the last major missile program in the next 25 years," Riley said.

Smart Seeker

Though competitive details are held close, both JAGM teams are building on long experience in tactical missiles, including work on the tri-mode seeker. "Certainly, the seeker is one of the critical technologies," Barrie said. The JAGM seeker will switch from SAL to MMW radar or IR energy to maintain target lock in adverse weather, battlefield dust and smoke, or enemy countermeasures.

The three-in-one sensor also gives JAGM four operating modes. Target Designate uses SAL, IR and MMWR functions simultaneously. Precision Point uses the laser seeker alone to hit a spot marked by the launch aircraft or some other designator. Active mode emits radar energy for target acquisition. Passive mode stops emitting radar energy in the terminal phase of flight laser and uses infrared signatures or an optional laser cue close to the target.

The JAGM seeker will allow the missile to engage targets designated autonomously by the launch platform or cooperatively by ground spotters, combat vehicles or other manned and unmanned aircraft. The fire-and-forget missile will fly Lock On Before Launch (LOBL) or After Launch (LOAL) engagements and find the target without further assistance from the launch aircraft or other designators. "This is a first in a 7-inch-class weapon," Barrie said.

JAGM also is designed to take targeting data from networked sources and transmit battle damage reports. The smart, robust target seeker is nevertheless meant to be affordable, and will not include target identification, Barrie said.

Lockheed Martin remains manufacturer of the laser-designated and radar-guided AGM-114 Hellfires that arm Army Apache and Kiowa Warrior, Navy Seahawk and Knight Hawk, Marine Whiskey Cobra and Air Force Predator aircraft. The company won the JAGM precursor competition for the Joint Common Missile (JCM), canceled by a Department of Defense budget cut in 2005. JCM tri-mode seeker technology emerged from an Army Science and Technology Objective, and Lockheed Martin tracked ground vehicles and motorboats with demonstration seekers on a Huey helicopter testbed.

The Lockheed Martin JAGM proposal offers fourth-generation seeker technology. Program director Hady Mourad explained, "Our design uses mature Joint Common Missile technology as a baseline, but it also includes several significant upgrades that will further improve performance, enhance producibility and reduce both cost and risk. We continue to pursue technological advances relative to the seeker, creating a unique process that allows the seeker’s various sensors to work cooperatively."

Raytheon Missile Systems still makes the laser-guided AGM-65E/E2 Maverick, and teamed with Small Diameter Bomb developer and JCM competitor Boeing Global Strike for JAGM development.

As prime contractor and systems integrator, Raytheon evolved infrared and radar seekers through successive programs, starting with Precision and Loitering Attack Missiles for the Non-Line-Of-Sight Launch System. JAGM puts special demands on sensor integration.

"The key exit criteria is your seeker system has to be fully operational and fully integrated," Riley said. "You have three modes acting as one seeker…. In an MMWR engagement, SAL and IR have to be operating and talking to radar so they understand what’s going on."

Fuze Functions

JAGM is meant to destroy advanced threat armored vehicles and still provide increased lethality against "non-traditional" targets. "The target set is significantly more expansive than Hellfire," said Barrie. To kill different targets, the Hellfire missile evolved with High Explosive Anti-Tank, blast/fragmentation and thermobaric warheads. The thermobaric AGM-114N was first used by Marine Whiskey Cobras in Operation Iraqi Freedom to clear out buildings in urban combat.

Marine Cobras routinely mix Hellfire with Raytheon’s lighter and less costly BQM-71 Tube launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) missile. TOW anti-armor warheads proved effective against bunkers and caves, and the missile later acquired a bunker-busting high-explosive fragmenting warhead. The laser Maverick missile launched by Marine Corps F-18s has a 300-pound blast fragmentation penetrator warhead designed to sink ships.

JAGM contenders are required to demonstrate a multi-purpose anti-material/anti-personnel warhead to kill moving and stationary targets, armored and non-armored, in battlefield, maritime and urban environments.

As part of JCM development, Lockheed Martin conducted warhead/fuze demonstrations in a MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) environment. It selected General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems to provide the JAGM warhead. Raytheon, meanwhile, draws on Boeing experience with the United Kingdom Brimstone missile warhead for JAGM. Ongoing Army Science and Technology work will support multi-purpose warhead development.

While the laser- or radar-guided Hellfire anti-armor missile follows a ballistic trajectory to its target, the wire-guided TOW was designed to fly essentially a straight line into or over enemy armor. Marine AH-1Ws in Operation Iraqi Freedom carried both missiles for direct and indirect fire engagements. In one case, an Iraqi tank shielded from lobbing Hellfires by a highway overpass was destroyed with a straight TOW shot.

The new AH-1Z Cobra, expected to be operational in 2011, eliminates heavy TOW guidance electronics altogether, and earlier this year verified Hellfire compatibility with the laser-designating Lockheed Martin Target Sighting System (TSS). Though the thermobaric Hellfire flattens its trajectory in the terminal stage of flight, JAGM will fly ballistic or direct-fire profiles to suit the engagement. "We add new capabilities on to all the platforms," Barrie said.

Like the tri-mode seeker, the JAGM autopilot is expected to take a preferred mode from the launching pilot or choose a flat or ballistic profile on its own. "There are times when you don’t want to pick anything at all," Raytheon’s Ryan said. "You want the missile to do the work for you. There are times when you want to tell the missile exactly what to do, and it will do that as well."

In either scenario, JAGM requires data exchange with the launch platform. Under the wing of an Apache Longbow, the radar-guided AGM-114L Hellfire receives target position, description, and the relationship of the target to the helicopter through the launcher interface. Missile status and position information, meanwhile, travel from the missile to the launch helicopter. Marine Cobras and Navy/Marine Super Hornets likewise exchange information with their missiles.

Legacy platforms will be able to interface with JAGM, but according to Barrie, "There will be new high-speed interfaces unique to JAGM that will provide more capability to support the platform."

Part of that data exchange will be allocated to missile health monitoring. JAGM requirements specify a 15-year shelf life and 25-year service life with rigorous Mean Time To Repair standards. An on-board Health Monitoring Unit will track the life of the missile to enhance supportability and reliability.

In response to field users, the Hellfire missile is receiving modifications to report health data, but according to Barrie, "nothing like this has been integrated from an initial design perspective."

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