$8 Billion 'Next Generation' Air-to-Ground Missile Isn't an Improvement Yet, IG Says


The U.S. is poised to spend up to $8 billion on a "next generation" air-to-ground missile that so far has failed to be better than the missile it's designed to replace, and the military has no idea how much more it will cost to realize the weapon's originally promised improvements, according to a new report from the Pentagon's Inspector General.

The declassified, lightly redacted report, published Thursday, says that "increment one" of the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) -- a weapon that's been in development since 1999 -- "will not provide critical capabilities needed by the warfighter," including "the capability to launch missiles from fixed-wing aircraft; strike targets from longer distances; and increase the accuracy, lethality, and interoperability over existing air-to-ground missiles."

That first version of the missile also will only be used on two helicopters, rather than the 15 aircraft for which it was meant, including armed drones.

Increment one of the JAGM, which a military official said is currently transitioning from development to production, could cost up to $8 billion throughout the life of the program, the report says, citing a 2015 estimate from the Joint Attack Munitions Systems office that manages the JAGM, Hellfire and "other munitions." The JAGM is $221,000 per missile, according to the Government Accountability Office, a little less than twice as much as the Hellfire. A January 2017 GAO report [PDF] says the military plans to buy more than 26,000 JAGMs.

Two more increments of the missile could be developed in the future, with the final version expected to meet the program's "original requirements," the IG says, referring to improvements over the Hellfire and other missiles in "accuracy, lethality, and interoperability."

So how far along are the other two increments? The IG report says the Army hasn't decided if it's really going to make them at all and hasn't estimated how much more they'd cost if they did.

"The Army officials stated that they will identify the developmental and procurement costs associated with future increments needed to achieve full capability if the Army decides to fund the additional increments," the IG report says. "The JAGM acquisition strategy states that the Army will assess the funding resources available for future increments at the JAGM increment one initial production decision scheduled for May 2018."

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The report says that back in 2011 the Army and Navy realized that the Lockheed Martin-produced missile, as originally planned, was not affordable for their budgets and scaled back on the program's lofty operational expectations, in part by simply using Hellfire components where new technology was supposed to go for the first increment.

In July 2015, Lockheed Martin, which also makes the Hellfire, was awarded a $66.4 million contract by the Army to develop the JAGM. The firm was the only bid. 

Mysteriously, as of this report the JAGM appears to have been left off Lockheed Martin's online "product list," which still features the Hellfire, and a product page devoted to the JAGM is no longer available. (A cached version by the Internet Archive shows it was operational as recently as June 2016, and a cached version of the product list shows a listing for the "Joint Air-to-Ground Missile Guidance Section.") Today a spokesperson for Lockheed Martin referred all questions from Code and Dagger to the Army, including questions about the Lockheed Martin website. Code and Dagger has reached out to the Army and will update this report as necessary.

In 2015, a senior Lockheed Martin official praised the JAGM after it took out two stationary targets in testing.

“These flight tests demonstrate the maturity of Lockheed Martin’s JAGM design and prove our risk-mitigation success and readiness for production,” said Frank St. John, vice president of Tactical Missiles and Combat Maneuver Systems at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, according to a Lockheed Martin press release. “Our innovative, affordable JAGM solution will provide operational flexibility and combat effectiveness, keeping the warfighter ahead of the threat."

Primary Source: Joint Air-to-Ground Missile Program (DOD IG, PDF)

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