WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin has developed a new version of the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile that doubles its current range, and the American company said it proved the capability in a recent flight test.
The new missile, which Lockheed is calling the JAGM-Medium Range, or JAGM-MR, traveled 16 kilometers (9.94 miles) in a flight test on Nov. 16 at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California.
The company also incorporated a tri-mode seeker that pairs a low-cost imaging sensor with the seeker’s semi-active laser and millimeter wave sensors.
The U.S. Army originally required the JAGM weapon to have a tri-mode seeker, but the service walked back to a dual-mode seeker requirement during a competitive development stage.
Cost was a factor for the Army when choosing to back of the tri-mode seeker requirement, but since then the price of tri-mode seeker technology has become more affordable.
The Army and the Marine Corps declared JAGM ready for full-rate production at the end of August 2022.
The decision was delayed after the weapon previously failed to achieve desired lethal effects on a maritime target, resulting in the Army and the Marine Corps delaying the missile’s fielding by more than a year.
JAGM will replace Lockheed-made Hellfire missiles aboard American aircraft and will first be fielded on AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and Marine Corps AH-1Z Viper helicopters.
The longer-range capability is critical for the military’s desire to achieve greater standoff from enemy locations — to operate out of range of enemy weapons systems — Joey Drake, program management director of air-to-ground missile systems at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, told Defense News in a recent interview.
The Army has repeatedly stated its need for longer-range munitions across the board, but particularly for its helicopter fleet.
It is also pursuing a long-range precision munition in a separate competitive effort and is currently using Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems’ Spike Non-Line-of-Sight missiles in the interim.
Along with the improved seeker, “there’s been quite a bit of activity and interest in this new capability with customers international and domestic,” Drake said of the JAGM-MR.
Lockheed invested in the upgrades with no external investment, but would not say how much funding it put toward the effort.
While the Army and the Marine Corps are the first adopters of the capability, the United Kingdom also signed on to receive JAGM, committing to the new missile in 2021.
As the company has worked on the effort, beginning static motor firings in November 2021, it saw an increased level of interest from foreign customers, Drake said.
Lockheed plans to continue proving out the technology both on the tri-mode seeker and range fronts over 2023.
The company acknowledged in a statement that “previous discussions of a medium range missile variant of JAGM were met with cost-prohibitive concerns, whether it was concerns because of the camera technology needed for the seeker or concerns about the additional hardware needed to integrate the third mode into the system,”
But now Lockheed believes it can provide this additional capability at a cost that is “very close” to current JAGM production.
Lockheed noted in its statement that the Army is now looking to address its aviation strategy with a JAGM Increment 3 requirement, which would increase the range of the missile and add the tri-mode seeker.
The company stated it is now working with the Army to “develop the JAGM roadmap to go from development to production as quickly as possible.
The next steps will be to work with the Army to secure funding for this product improvement program.”