Tuesday, May 24, 2022

With A Range Of 900 Km, Australia To Equip Its F-35 Stealth Fighters, Super Hornets With Cutting-Edge JASSM-ER Missiles

Australia has approved a plan worth A$3.5 billion ($2.6 billion) to expedite the procurement of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range (JASSM-ER) and Naval Strike Missiles, with the goal of enhancing the country’s advanced strike capabilities. 

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Peter Dutton announced that Australia would speed up the acquisition of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range (JASSM-ER) for the Royal Australian Air Force, the Naval Strike Missile (NSM) for the Royal Australian Navy’s surface fleet. 

In addition, maritime mines to safeguard Australia’s ports and maritime approaches will also be procured. Given the complex and challenging strategic environment on Australia’s borders in the Indo-Pacific, Dutton believes that an expedited military upgrade, as well as the weapons enterprise, is necessary. 

By 2024, Australia’s Super Hornets and, in the future, the F-35A Lightning II will be equipped with JASSM-ER missiles capable of engaging targets at a range of up to 900 kilometers.

From the same year, new Norwegian-made Naval Strike Missiles will be fitted on Hobart-class destroyers and Anzac frigates. The missile will replace the Harpoon anti-ship missile and will have a greater range, allowing the country to improve its marine striking capabilities. Dutton asserts that this will be a major boost to Australia’s marine strike capabilities. 

F-35 engine
File Image: F-35A

“These world-class strike weapon systems will equip our forces to better protect Australia’s maritime approaches and when necessary, contribute to coalition operations in our region,” Dutton said. 

Lockheed Martin Australia and Raytheon Australia have been named as partners in the “Sovereign Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordinance Enterprise.” That means these two companies will help Canberra to domestically build guided weapons for the military, which currently sources its missiles from the U.S. and other countries. 

Raytheon and Lockheed Martin will be assisted in developing the sovereign missile industry by three local partners: the Australian Missile Corporation, the Sovereign Missile Alliance, and Aurecon Advisory. 

The announcement, according to a Lockheed Martin press statement, lays the road and establishes the foundations for Australia’s self-reliance, enabling the sovereign defense capabilities the country requires to sustain a considerable advantage throughout all dimensions.

This decision will promote advanced manufacturing, engineering, and technology jobs, allowing for the rapid development of a highly qualified workforce and future improvements in areas such as sensors, warheads, and missile range enhancements, Lockheed said. 

In February, Lockheed won a $49 million contract to incorporate the AGM-158C Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), a JASSM anti-ship variant, with Australia’s F/A-18F aircraft. This comes after Australia announced in July 2020 that the LRASM would replace the Boeing AGM-84 Harpoon.

Super Hornet-Block III
File Image: Boeing-Super Hornets

“Australia’s strategic environment is becoming more complex and challenging, the Indo-Pacific now sits at the epicenter of global strategic competition,” Dutton said. “It is imperative that we work closely with like-minded countries and industry partners to develop a more capable military force to defend Australia,” he added.

This purchase also appears to be aimed at bolstering the country’s defenses against China’s aggressive stance in the Indo-Pacific region. “We’re very worried about what’s happening in the Indo-Pacific, and China is on a course with regards to Taiwan,” Dutton told the Nine Network. 

JASSM-ER

The JASSM (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile) is a long-range, conventional, stealthy ground attack cruise missile developed for the US Air Force and its allied countries. AGM-158B JASSM-ER, an extended range variant, was developed alongside the standard model and entered service in 2014. 

The JASSM’s manufacturing and production began in 1998 with the Air Force designating it operational in 2003. The JASSM-ER was first tested in 2006, with the first batch of missiles being supplied to the United States Air Forces in March 2014.

The JASSM is equipped with a low-observable airframe that is capable of defeating a variety of targets, including enemy air defenses. Given the development of advanced air defenses such as the S-300, the missile’s low-profile airframe is especially crucial. The JASSM-ER will potentially include a weapons data link (WDL) that will enable for post-launch course changes. This is a significant enhancement for targets on the road and at water.

Image
JASSM-ER – Lockheed Martin

The basic JASSM has a range of about 370 kilometers, while the JASSM-ER has a range of nearly 920 kilometers. As their airframes are the same, the weapons cannot be identified only on the basis of appearance. A larger internal fuel tank and a more efficient turbofan engine are the main differences.

A turbojet engine powers the standard missile, while a turbofan engine powers the ER variant. The missile is directed by an INS/GPS unit that was designed for the JDAM and JSOW bombs, as well as a terminal guidance IR seeker.

According to the company’s website, “JASSM is integrated on the U.S. Air Force’s B-1B, B-2, B-52, F-16 and F-15E. JASSM-ER is integrated on the B-1B, the F-15E and is currently completing integration for the internal bay and wings of the B-52H, and F-16C/D. Internationally, JASSM is carried on the F/A-18A/B and the F-18C/D aircraft. Future integration efforts will focus on the U.S. and international versions of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft and other international platforms.”

In 2018, the US Air Force began work on a new extended variant known as the AGM-158D. The JASSM-XR, or “Extreme Range,” will apparently have a range of about 1,800 kilometers. Last year, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control was awarded a USD428.4 million contract for the US Air Force’s Lot 19 production of the JASSM-ER precision standoff missile.

Naval Strike Missile (NSM) 

This fifth-generation missile is being developed by Norwegian company Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace in collaboration with Raytheon. The Naval Strike Missile is a long-range, precision strike weapon that hunts down and destroys enemy ships at a range of more than 100 nautical miles. 

The Naval Strike Missile avoids opposing radar and defensive systems by conducting evasive maneuvers and flying at a sea-skimming height.  NSM has a 500-pound class warhead with a programmed fuze and uses a sophisticated seeker for precision targeting.

It is GPS-guided and equipped with a dual-band imaging infrared seeker for better target identification on its medium course. All of these features come at a cost: each missile costs $2.2 million.

Naval Strike Missile - Wikipedia
Naval Strike Missile – Wikipedia

The NSM was chosen by the US Navy in 2018 for the over-the-horizon defense of its littoral combat ships and future frigates. During Pacific Griffin, a biennial exercise held near Guam, the USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) launched NSM in 2019. 

NSM is also well-suited for land-attack missions. It was successfully demonstrated in 2018 as part of a multinational military exercise. Moreover, the United States Marine Corps selected a land-based Naval Strike Missile in 2019, splitting expenditures and interoperability with the Navy.

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