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Quad A 2017: Missile development overcomes hurdles

19th April 2017 - 13:00 by Beth Maundrill in London

Quad A 2017: Missile development overcomes hurdles

With low-rate production scheduled for May 2018, the US Army's Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) is well on its way to replacing the long-standing AGM-114 Hellfire, despite some bumps along the road.

The programme plans to manufacture JAGM on the existing production line used for Hellfire missiles, with programme officials recently telling the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that they expect all production processes to be mature prior to the start of low-rate production.

The critical design review, carried out in 2016, assessed the JAGM design as stable; a full-rate production decision is scheduled for August 2019.

One hurdle the programme has to overcome is the software capabilities of the AH-64 Apache. The aircraft's current software used to launch Hellfire missiles requires more pilot input to access JAGM functionality than first expected. Because of this the programme's initiation operational testing and evaluation (IOT&E) has been delayed by two years.

The programme has planned a limited user test in January 2018 of ten missile shots with existing platform software and hardware to demonstrate the missile's capabilities, the GAO stated.

GAO findings state that new platform software for the Apache is set to conduct flight testing in August 2018, followed by IOT&E. The improved software on the Apache will allow pilots to select the full range of options with far less physical interface with the platform.

Slight delays were also experienced during the production of engineering and manufacturing development missiles, the GAO noted.

A five month delay was experienced due to a defect in the seeker head assembly's duel-sensor interface circuit card, which could have resulted in the failure of the sensor. Lockheed Martin, the main contractor, has since redesigned to new specifications.

As well as the AH-64 Apache, JAGM will be utilised on the US Marine Corps AH-1Z Viper as well as some unmanned platforms.

The programme also found that the material used to coat a portion of the transceiver failed under vibration loads, the GAO noted. A different coating is set to be used beginning with the 81st testing missile it produces, and performance limitations are not expected to affect earlier missiles.

In January 2017 the missile was fired from an AH-64D for the first time at the Eglin Air Force Base Maritime Range, Florida. At least 50 more test shots are planned with some being carried out through simulation.

JAGM has also been fired from a MQ-1C Grey Eagle.

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