WASHINGTON — Having failed to achieve desired lethal effects on a maritime target, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps had to delay fielding of the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile. But now a full-rate production decision is expected in summer 2022, according to Maj. Gen. Robert Rasch, the Army’s program executive officer for missiles and space.
The JAGM replaces the legacy Lockheed Martin-made Hellfire missile used across the services. However, the new weapon encountered problems during testing when it was fired from the Army’s AH-64E Apache and the Marine Corps’ AH-1Z Viper helicopters.
The new munition features a dual-mode seeker and guidance system mated to a Hellfire missile.
Prior to 2018, the Army experienced several failures during live-fire testing from an AH-64E Apache, including seeing the missile miss two targets. And during a major test event, one of the four launches with a live warhead failed to detonate. The Apache’s targeting site and fire control radar also passed “erroneous target velocities” to the missile, according to test reports.
The Army was able to resolve those problems in subsequent testing and evaluation.
But the Marine Corps struggled with JAGM on Viper during an initial operational test and evaluation at Fort Hood, Texas, and Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in mid-2019.
The Marines fired two shots, both of which did not hit boat targets at the center of the vessel, but rather striking more toward the back.
The service had planned to tweak missile software to improve results, but its initial operational test and evaluation, which was originally planned to take place in the second quarter of fiscal 2020, was delayed without indication of when a new testing event would take place.
While the Army was able to conduct its onboard platform software to improve its issues, and the Marine Corps had a similar approach, it “just took longer, the way their dollars flowed and how much money they could put at the problem at the time,” Rasch told Defense News in an interview ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual show held in Washington, D.C.
The plan was to make a full-rate production decision about a year ago, he added, “but we needed to give them more time to complete the platform integration with the missile.”
The Army has made no modifications to the missile since it completed its integration with the Apache.
The Marines are expected to go out to the range to run its final tests on Viper in early 2022. If all goes well, the services can move into full-rate production, Rasch said.
The Army was “ready to go last time,” Rasch noted, but because the requirements documents said JAGM must work from both platforms to move into full-rate production, the service took a pause.
The delay has not affected the program overall, Rasch said.
“The Army has to make tough decisions every year from a budgetary perspective,” he explained. “We had anticipated kind of doing a slower ramp all along.”
The Army is still producing JAGMs at the minimum sustainment rate, Rasch noted.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.