Son of a Hellfire: JAGM meets long-overdue need for improved air-to-ground missile

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 4 Aug. 2015. The U.S. Army and Navy are taking another step toward deploying a new-generation air-to-ground missile for helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the form of a $66.4 million development contract last week to Lockheed Martin for the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM).

After big defense cuts, what lies ahead?
After big defense cuts, what lies ahead?
Jagm Blog 4 Aug 2015THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 4 Aug. 2015. The U.S. Army and Navy are taking another step toward deploying a new-generation air-to-ground missile for helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the form of a $66.4 million development contract last week to Lockheed Martin for the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM).

Engineers at the Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control segment in Orlando, Fla., are developing the dual-mode-seeker missile as a replacement for the ageing U.S. Army and Navy inventories of Airborne TOW, Maverick, and Hellfire air-to-ground missiles.

The JAGM will use the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire missile body and rocket motor, but adds a dual-mode seeker that can guide the missile to its target either with millimeter-wave radar or by homing-in on a laser designation spot.

The radar-guidance section gives the missile fire-and-forget capability to enable the aircraft firing it to escape quickly after launch. The laser-guidance section enables aircraft or ground spotters to guide the missile to its target with laser designators.

Different versions of the deployed AGM-114 Hellfire missile today use either radar or laser guidance, but do not combine the two terminal-guidance modes. Future upgrades could include an uncooled infrared sensor to create a tri-mode seeker to increase the JAGM's precision.

Related: Lockheed Martin gets go-ahead to develop new Joint-Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM)

Future enhancements to the JAGM also could introduce a new rocket motor to enable the missile to fire from fast-moving tactical jet aircraft like the Navy's F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter and F-35 joint strike fighter.

The missile's current design will enable JAGM to fire from the Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, the Army MQ-1C Gray Eagle medium-range UAV, the Navy MH-60R shipboard helicopter, the Marine Corps AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter, and perhaps other relatively slow-moving aircraft.

With future improvements the missile could be adapted to U.S. Air Force tactical jets, as well as the Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier jump jet and other platforms.

There's been a need for change for a long time in air-to-ground missiles. The AGM-114 Hellfire has been in the U.S. military inventory now for more than 30 years, having been developed as an anti-armor weapon for the Apache attack helicopter.

The Hellfire has seen several upgrades and adaptations during its span of service, but the Hellfire has seen its day, and the time is right for a new air-to-ground weapon designed to take out moving and stationary armored combat vehicles; air defense units; patrol craft; artillery; missile launchers; radar sites; command-and-control nodes; bunkers; and other structures in urban and complex terrain.

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