Lockheed Martin Official Voices Optimism On Crucial Cruise Missile Test

Facing a series of do-or-die reliability tests later this summer, a Lockheed Martin [LMT] official expressed confidence in an Air Force cruise missile program that has come under increased scrutiny after a series of flight test failures.

David Van Buren, the acting Air Force weapons buyer, said in May that the $6 billion Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) program faces termination if Lockheed Martin does not fix problems that have caused the weapon repeatedly to fail to detonate on impact. The service plans to conduct a series of flight tests later this summer that are expected to inform a decision on the program’s future.

In the meantime, Lockheed Martin has funded an effort to replace components thought to be responsible for the flight test "anomalies" on existing missiles, Alan Jackson, Lockheed Martin’s program director for JASSM, told sister publication Defense Daily.

In a telephone interview last week, Jackson said that Lockheed Martin is also scrutinizing the work of its subcontractors more closely. He added, however, that flight test problems have not led the company to change any of its component providers.

He declined to provide cost details for the retrofits and other improvements to the missile.

Four JASSM missiles tested in November and January did not detonate on impact, diminishing the program’s reliability in testing to 79 percent, according to Air Force officials. The service’s ultimate testing reliability goal is set at 90 percent.

Jackson expressed optimism that the upcoming tests will yield positive results.

"We feel very confident that our improvements will pay off and that this summer’s testing will go very well," he said.

Meanwhile, the company was awarded a $23 million contract on Monday for production of 12 JASSM-Extended Range (ER) variant missiles for flights tests. Six of the missiles will be used to complete the development test flight program, with the remaining six to be used in operational tests.

"These tests will demonstrate the maturity of the JASSM-ER design, and support the Milestone C decision to proceed with low rate initial production of the missile," Jackson said.

The JASSM-ER flight tests will be launched from a B-1B aircraft. JASSM-ER has succeeded in all four of the developmental flight tests undertaken to date. The JASSM-ER will be compatible with the B-1B, as well as the B-2, B-52 and F-16.

Jackson said the JASSM-ER order demonstrates the Air Force’s commitment to the program as a whole.

The program has encountered cost and schedule problems in the past, but the Pentagon has consistently maintained that it has no alternative for the 2,000-pound, long-range, precision missile.

The conventional variant was declared combat-ready five years ago and has been deployed in combat.

Australia Optimistic On JASSM Buy

Air Marshal Mark Binskin, the chief of the Royal Australian Air Force, last week expressed optimism about the planned integration of the Lockheed Martin [LMT] Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) on the country’s older Hornets.

"We’re fully aware of the issues that are happening with the program," he told reporters at a press conference at a Boeing facility in St. Louis. "But we still see it as the weapon we want to put on the classic Hornets.

U.S. Air Force officials have said the stealth cruise missile program is in danger of termination if it does not pass reliability tests scheduled for later this summer.

"I’m confident with where it’s going at the moment," Binskin added, "but we’ll just have to wait and see."

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