The Pentagon’s newest air-to-ground missile is about to get a long range upgrade, allowing it to strike targets from farther away than ever before.
The JASSM-XR cruise missile will give U.S. tactical aircraft the ability to strike targets more than a thousand miles away. To give you an idea of this kind of reach, it means a bomber circling Manhattan could strike targets as away as Minneapolis, Minnesota or Jacksonville, Florida with pinpoint accuracy.
The Pentagon’s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile is a subsonic cruise missile. Flying low to evade enemy radar detection, it uses both jam-resistant GPS and an internal navigation system to follow a predetermined route to its target. Moments before impact the missile switches on a nose-mounted imaging infrared seeker to identify the target and then home in for the kill. JASSM’s 1,000-lb. warhead has a hard target smart fuse to allow it to penetrate earth, rock, or concrete.
The April 2018 NATO strike on Syria, in retaliation for the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons on the ground, saw the U.S. Air Force launch 19 JASSM (the Pentagon had earlier reported JASSM-ER) missiles launched against regime targets. The missiles were launched from B-1B Lancer bombers, but B-2s, B-52Hs, F-15Es, and F-16s can carry the missile as well.
The original JASSM was powered by a Teledyne CAE J402-CA-100 turbojet and had a range of 230 miles. JASSM-ER to an estimated 500 miles using a more fuel efficient Williams International F107-WR-105 turbofan engine and larger fuel tanks.
This Monday, the Pentagon Lockheed Martin a $51 million contract to develop a new version of the missile, Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extreme Range (JASSM-XR). JASSM-XR is expected to have a range of more than 1,000 miles. This probably involves an even larger fuel tank, and perhaps improvements to the inertial navigation system to keep the missile on track.
Longer range makes for more flexible missions and greater aircraft survivability. JASSM-XR now can strike targets deeper in enemy territory, or use a significant portion of its range to fly around enemy air defenses so it can strike from an unexpected direction. It also means a non-stealthy carrier aircraft, particularly the B-52 heavy bomber, can unload its payload of missiles far from threatening enemy air defenses.
According to the contract, the Pentagon expects JASSM-XR ready by August 2023.