Farnborough Air Show

Exports start to pick up as JSOW costs come down

 - November 15, 2006, 7:34 AM

After a slow start, the merits of Raytheon’s Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) are becoming apparent. In U.S. service since 1997, the cost of the JSOW has been reduced and Greece, Turkey and Poland have recently chosen it for their F-16s, and Singapore for its F-15s. It is a precision weapon, winged but unpowered, that can glide over 60 nm to reach its target after launch from a combat aircraft. It can carry three different payloads.

According to Cmdr. Eric Holmberg, the JSOW is attractive because it provides the stand-off range that Paveway and JDAM bombs cannot, while being 75 percent cheaper than long-range missiles such as the SLAM-ER. Holmberg is the U.S. Navy’s JSOW deputy program manager and he spoke at the recent Air-Launched Weapons conference organized by Defence IQ in London. [The Air-Launched Weapons Conference is held annually in London. For details, visit www.defenceiq.com.–Ed.]

The U.S. Navy led the development of the JSOW, first integrating it with Boeing’s F/A-18 fighter. It can now also be launched from Lockheed Martin P-3s and from U.S. Air Force F-15s, F-16s, B-1s, B-2s and B-52s.

The JSOW uses an integrated GPS/INS to navigate to the target via up to eight waypoints, which can be preprogrammed before a mission or loaded from the cockpit once airborne through onboard or offboard sensors. The waypoints can be selected to maneuver around en-route threats that might intercept and destroy the weapon. But in any case, as Holmberg noted, the JSOW is hard to detect, since it is shaped for stealth; emits no noise, smoke or contrail; and has no infrared signature.

When dropped from 25,000 feet the weapon will fly for 50 nm. That’s enough to keep the launch aircraft outside the range of point-defense weapons.

The first version of the JSOW to enter service was the AGM-154A, which carries the 145 bomblets of the BLU-97 dispenser system. More than 400 AGM-154As have been dropped in anger over Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, against area targets such as airfields and groups of armored vehicles. Another version, the AGM-154B, was designed to carry BLU-108 sensor-fused submunitions, but it was deemed too expensive and has been shelved.

Another version, the AGM-154C, features two enhancements: an infrared terminal seeker that provides precision accuracy (to four feet), and the BAE Systems Broach system payload. This two-stage warhead uses a precursor charge to break into a hardened target and then the penetrator charge explodes to provide assured destruction. The warheads can also be set for more conventional blast/fragmentation effects against softer targets.

Although not yet fired in combat, Holmberg said development of the JSOW-C version has been a great success. “Commanders are still learning how capable it is,” he added.

Submunitions of the type used in the A version are out of favor with many nations now because a proportion of them never explode and present an ongoing hazard after the battle. Raytheon has recently funded development of the AGM-154A-1 which carries a single 500-pound bomb instead (the BLU-111). Raytheon and the U.S. Navy also came up with manufacturing initiatives which reduced the cost of each JSOW by 25 percent, or $100,000, according to Holmberg.

For the future, the weapon’s modularity will allow new payloads and terminal seekers to be substituted as they are developed. A low-cost UHF datalink is to be added to the JSOW-C so the coordinates of moving targets, such as a ship, can be passed to the weapon after launch. There is even space for a small turbojet which would extend the range substantially. This is “not as big a deal as you think,” Holmberg told the conference, suggesting that this “JSOW-ER” could even be an eventual replacement for the SLAM-ER–at lower cost.