[3.0] US Cruise Missiles At War / Futures

v1.0.0 / chapter 3 of 3 / 01 may 16 / greg goebel

* While the US cruise missiles of the 1950s saw no real combat, cruise missiles have now become a spearhead weapon for American military forces. This chapter describes the combat use of cruise missiles, and also discusses follow-on technologies.

Tomahawk launch against Iraq, 2003

[3.2] AGM-158 JASSM


* On 17 January 1991, the Tomahawk became the first American long-range cruise missile to be used in combat, when 52 were fired in a salvo at targets in Iraq from US warships in the Persian Gulf as part of Operation DESERT STORM, the campaign to evict Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. Other salvos followed for a total of 288 Tomahawks launched in the campaign, with excellent results. Of the first 106 Tomahawks launched, at least 100 hit their targets. The missiles were fired by eleven US Navy surface ships and one submerged submarine, the LOUISVILLE.

American and British reporters in Baghdad watched as a Tomahawk zoomed above the street before making a right angle degree turn down the next street on the way to its target. British TV camera crews filmed five Tomahawks entering the Baghdad city limits, one after another. It has been suggested that strike mission planners deliberately plotted the flight path to pass by the hotel where the reporters were staying. Among the targets hit in Baghdad were the presidential palace, the Ministry of Defense, and a central communications center. Elsewhere in Iraq, targets included chemical, biological, and nuclear warfare research facilities. As mentioned, the US Air Force also launched 35 CALCMs at targets in northern Iraq, for a total expenditure of 323 cruise missiles in the conflict.

At least one TLAM-D was specially modified to provide a "soft kill" on Iraqi power stations, using an improvised warhead designated "KIT-2". Its submunitions dispensers were filled with spools of conductive fibers instead of bomblets, and dumped the spools over the power stations, temporarily shorting them out.

After their initial use in DESERT STORM, cruise missiles increasingly became a prominent weapon for the selective application of US military power:

Both the CALCM and Tomahawk remain in the US inventory for now. While no more AGM-86s are going to be built, new TACTOMS are still being delivered. However, the US Navy has no current plans to obtain Tomahawks from 2016 on. There was considerable outcry over this decision, but it was forced by budget cuts imposed by Congress; Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the inventories were adequate to maintain stock until a replacement weapon arrives. Both the Air Force and Navy are considering replacements.


[3.2] AGM-158 JASSM

* The USAF has complemented ALCM with a lighter, more modern air-launched cruise missile for tactical attack. Development of the "AGM-158A Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM)" was initiated in 1996. It evolved out of an earlier program, the "Tri-Service Standoff Attack Missile (TSSAM)", that was canceled because of cost escalation. The emphasis in JASSM development was on limiting costs while retaining capability. After a competition between Lockheed Martin and McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing), Lockheed Martin won the full scale development contract in the spring of 1998. (Hughes' AirHawk, the cut-down version of the Tomahawk mentioned earlier, didn't make it into the finals.)


JASSM has switchblade wings and a unitary penetrating warhead. It navigates using a GPS-INS guidance system and has an infrared seeker system to give it a CEP of 3 meters (10 feet). JASSM is powered by a Teledyne J402-100 turbojet engine and incorporates a high degree of stealth to improve its ability to penetrate enemy air defenses. It is fitted with a datalink to provide status and location data up to impact, assisting in bomb damage assessment, and may eventually incorporate a satellite datalink to perform this function.

   AGM-158A JASSM:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   length                  4.35 meters         14 feet
   total weight            1,000 kilograms     2,200 pounds
   warhead weight          450 kilograms       1,000 pounds
   speed                   subsonic
   range at altitude       320 kilometers      200 MI / 175 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

First powered flights of JASSM were conducted late in 1999, with first launch of a fully configured and armed missile in April 2001, and operational tests in 2002. Although there were some development problems that led to a stretchout of the program, initial production was authorized in early 2002, and the weapon is now in service. The USAF is currently planning to buy about 4,900 JASSMs. The US Navy has committed to buying 514 JASSMS, though that service has been committed to "SLAM-ER", a derivative of the Harpoon antiship missile, and has had mixed feelings about JASSM. The weapon has been qualified for launch on the B-52, B-1, B-2, F-16, F/A-18E/F, and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

AGM-158A JASSM drop from F-15E

In 2006, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) selected the JASSM, to be carried by RAAF Northrop Grumman F/A-18 Hornets, and eventually RAAF Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. Australia was the first export customer for JASSM; it was followed by orders from Finland and Poland.

The Air Force is obtaining an "AGM-158B JASSM-ER (Extended Range)" with a range of over 900 kilometers (560 miles) and the same airframe, the increased range being partly obtained by use of the Williams F107 turbofan. Formal go-ahead for development was given to Lockheed Martin in 2004, with initial test flights in 2006, low-rate production begun in 2012, and delivery of the first full-rate production batch in 2014. The Air Force plans to buy 1,400 JASSM-ERs, as part of the 4,900-unit total JASSM buy. The program was threatened by technical problems for a time, but the difficulties were resolved.

Lockheed Martin has considered a "JASSM-XR (Extra Extended Range)" variant that would double the range again to over 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles), but would only be carried on bombers and heavy strike aircraft. The JASSM-XR design would be stretched to 6.3 meters (20 feet 8 inches) and feature a fixed canard to ensure flight trim. At the other end of the scale, the company has considered a shortened variant, the "JASSM-SR", that could be carried in the internal weapons bays of stealthy strike aircraft.

* Lockheed Martin is now working with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on a stealthy antiship missile derivative of the JASSM-ER, the "AGM-158C Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM)". It is a fast-track demonstration program, featuring a multimode seeker developed by BAE Systems and a semi-armor-piercing warhead. Test flights began in 2013; an initial production batch was ordered on a urgent-needs basis, but a competition is expected before full production begins. LRASM will be both air- and ship-launched, hinting at a possible ground-launched version of JASSM.


Other possible future developments of JASSM include:

Exactly how the JASSM family fits into USAF and USN plans for replacements of CALCM and Tomahawk is unclear. In 2012, the USAF announced the award of contracts for investigation of a "Long-Range Standoff (LRSO)" cruise missile to replace the CALCM. Details are scarce; the Navy is conducting a similar investigation, but has said even less.



* The McDonnell Quail decoy drone established US military interest in decoys, leading to an effort to develop an improved decoy. In 1996 DARPA, with USAF encouragement and cooperation, initiated a competition for a "Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (MALD)" demonstrator.

A number of aerospace firms responded. One strong contender for the award was a decoy version the Lockheed Martin Vought "Low-Cost Autonomous Attack System (LOCAAS)", a small anti-armor cruise missile with search-and-destroy capabilities then in development. However, Ryan, which had been bought out by Northrop Grumman in 1999, won the DARPA MALD award with an entirely new design. LOCAAS, incidentally, was never fielded.

The Northrop Grumman "ADM-160A", as its MALD demonstrator was eventually designated, was a slender machine powered by a tiny Hamilton Sundstrand TJ-50 turbojet. The demonstrator was 2.3 meters (7 feet 7 inches) long, had pop-out wings with a span of 65 centimeters (25 inches), and a launch weight of 40 kilograms (88 pounds). Three of them could be carried on a single stores pylon using a triple ejector rack. The MALD demonstrator was designed to fly at high subsonic speed for about 20 minutes. It used a programmable waypoint guidance system with GPS navigation, and had a programmable active radar enhancement payload that in principle could allow it to impersonate almost any combat aircraft. The USAF planned to buy about 1,500 MALDs, and the US Army and the British also expressed interest in the weapon.

Raytheon ADM-160A MALD

The MALD program seemed to be going well, with initial test flights in 1999, and received very good press. Another demonstrator program was spun off the MALD effort, in the form of the "Miniature Air Launched Interceptor (MALI)", a supersonic version of the AGM-160 intended to shoot down cruise missiles. It featured a new, uprated Hamilton Sundstrand TJ-120 engine, streamlined nose, and wings with greater sweep. An initial MALI test flight took place in late 2001.

There was also interest in a ground-launched version of MALI with a solid-rocket booster; an expendable jammer variant of the MALD, known as "MALD-J"; and a lightweight cruise missile derivative of the MALD. However, much to almost everyone's surprise, the MALD demonstrator program was canceled in January 2002 before it had run its course. DARPA, which only runs relatively brief investigation programs, had turned over the effort to the Air Force, and then the program ran into what appears to have been dissatisfactions and second thoughts.

* The Air Force decided that the MALD demonstrator didn't have the range or endurance to be the decoy the service wanted, and would not have been a good platform for other roles. That meant committing to a more sophisticated and expensive decoy. However, the MALI demonstration program was completed, with a MALI demonstrator achieving Mach 1.1 during test flights in late 2002. The USAF restarted the competition, specifying a new decoy with an endurance of 45 minutes or more at 10,670 meters (35,000 feet) and 20 minutes or more at 915 meters (3,000 feet). Of course, the service realized that a more capable decoy was going to be more expensive, and adjusted the required pricetag upward accordingly.

Raytheon won the award in the spring of 2003. The configuration of the Raytheon design was originally very similar to that of the ADM-160A, to the extent that they could be confused if not seen side-by-side, but after the award of the contract the design evolved to a new configuration that featured a fuselage with a trapezoidal cross section to make carriage easier. The Raytheon "ADM-160B MALD" is much heavier, with a weight of 113 kilograms (250 pounds), a length of 2.84 meters (9 feet 7 inches), and a wingspan of 1.71 meters (5 feet 7 inches) -- with the wings extended to a straight position for range and endurance, instead of swept for speed.

The ADM-160B is powered by a Hamilton Sundstrand TJ-150 engine, an uprated derivative of the TJ-50 of the original demonstrator, and gives the decoy a top speed of Mach 0.91 at 12,200 meters (40,000 feet). Hamilton Sundstrand also provides an alternator and power control system to run the drone's avionics, which includes a GPS-based navigation system and a Raytheon-developed active radar signature enhancement payload that can be programmed to mimic different classes of aircraft. A flight profile can be programmed into the MALD by the carrier platform before launch.

Initial powered flight of an ADM-160B was in June 2007; following successful evaluation, low-rate production began in late 2008, with introduction to service in 2010.

The Air Force remained ambivalent about the MALD-J jammer variant for a time -- the abrupt collapse of the original MALD program no doubt left program officials cautious about overselling its successor -- but the USAF finally awarded Raytheon a development contract for the "ADM-160C" MALD-J in the spring of 2008. MALD-J development was straightforward, MALD having been designed with a range of payloads in mind, and the first all-up test flights of MALD-J were performed in early 2010. Production began in 2011, with introduction to service in 2012. The US Navy has become interested in MALD-J as well, performing evaluations, with an intent to lead up to service use.

Raytheon ADM-160C MALD-J

In 2011, Raytheon performed test launches of MALD dummies from a C-130 Hercules cargolifter, using the "MALD Cargo Air Launch System (MCALS)" developed by the company. MCALS is a rack that can hold up to 6 MALDs and is mounted on a standard cargo pallet; using MCALS, a cargolift aircraft can sequentially deploy all the MALDs out the open rear cargo door. MALD has been qualified for carriage on the Reaper drone as well.

Raytheon has also investigated a "MALD-V", the "V" possibly standing for "versatile", a "truck" version of the vehicle with an empty payload bay for accommodating a sensor, communications relay, or whatever. The payload bay has dimensions of 60 x 25 x 25 centimeters (24 x 10 x 10 inches) and payloads can weigh up to 23 kilograms (50 pounds). Use of the MALD-V for reconnaissance tends to imply a recovery scheme, but Raytheon has been mum on that issue.

Raytheon has also said little about carriage of small munitions or a warhead. The US military has been going around for some time in attempts to develop a miniature cruise missile for precision attacks; if MALD-V could be used for that purpose with minimal additional qualification, it would seem very attractive, all the more so because it would ramp up MALD production quantities and reduce unit costs. There has been mention of a high-power microwave payload, with the MALD-V loitering over a target area to spot emitters and then fry them. In any case, MALD-V seems to open the door to expanded use of the vehicle; ground, ship, or even submarine-launched versions could follow, and the production numbers would be a real prize.



* Programs for cruise missile development come and go, and it's hard to know just how seriously to take them sometimes. Programs in early stages of development are at least as often as not canceled down the road without going to production; some programs are experimental; and some are no more than proposals that were never funded for development.

The US Navy did considerable work on a relatively small, in principle cheap cruise missile under the "Affordable Weapon Systems (AWS)" program. The goal was to design a new weapon that will be an order of magnitude less expensive than the Tomahawk, using off-the-shelf components as much as possible. A preliminary development contract was awarded to Titan Corporation, later part of L3, in 2002; following construction of demonstrators, a bigger contract was awarded to Titan in 2005 for a test and evaluation batch of 85 AWS missiles. Test flights were conducted, but then the program disappeared.

Affordable Weapon System

Pictures of the AWS showed a weapon that looks very much like a scaled-down "toy" Tomahawk, launched by a small solid-rocket booster with paddle type tailfins. It was powered by an SWB Turbines SWB-65 turbojet with 290 newtons (30 kgp / 65 lbf) thrust and was fitted with a unitary blast / fragmentation warhead, though three BLU-108/B Sensor-Fuzed Weapons, each carrying four "Skeet" submunitions, was considered as an alternate warhead. The AWS was GPS-guided, featured a datalink system, and had a loitering capability.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   diameter                34.3 centimeters    13.5 inches
   length                  3.28 meters         10 feet 9 inches
   launch weight           334 kilograms       737 pounds
   warhead weight          90 kilograms        200 pounds

   max speed               460 KPH             290 MPH / 250 KT
   range                   1,530 kilometers    950 MI / 825 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

Why the AWS was abandoned is unclear; few involved in dead-end programs are inclined to say much about them. It might have simply been done in by changing requirements -- but there's also the unfortunate tendency of "cheap and dirty" weapon systems to turn out to be nowhere near as cheap as expected, while ending up unacceptably dirty. It may come back again, possibly in a different form.

* The Navy also investigated a very fast cruise missile. In the summer of 2002, DARPA awarded Boeing a contract to develop a demonstrator for a Mach 6 cruise missile under the "HyFly" program. The objective was to build a missile that could be launched from surface ships, submarines, or aircraft to attack mobile targets after they have been spotted and before they have time to move.

The HyFly demonstrator was powered by a "dual combustion ramjet" engine. A traditional ramjet can operate at speeds up to Mach 5 at most, but above that speed the airflow in the engine becomes supersonic. (The speed of sound under high pressure and temperature conditions inside a jet engine is much greater than it is in the outside air, and airflow is slowed inside the engine as well.) It is difficult to mix and burn fuel in a supersonic airflow, at least in an engine of any reasonable length -- the task being compared to "lighting a match in a hurricane, and keeping it lit."

Experimental "supersonic combustion ramjet (scramjet)" engines are being developed that can operate at speeds potentially as high as Mach 25, but they require fast-burn fuels that are inconvenient or unsafe, or feature a relatively bulky fuel system that uses engine heat to "crack" conventional jet fuel down into smaller, more rapidly burned molecules.

The dual combustion ramjet for HyFly was a compromise. It operated around a core "ramjet combustor" with its own set of inlets, in which the intake air was slowed to subsonic speeds, mixed with fuel, and burned. However, the outlet air from the core ramjet was mixed with supersonic air in a "supersonic combustor" with another set of inlets, and burned more completely. A dual combustion ramjet can operate at up to Mach 6.5; it is cheaper and more compact than a scramjet. Since ramjets can't generate static thrust, the HyFly demonstrator's dual combustion ramjet had to be brought up to speed by a booster rocket. The airframe was made with a ceramic composite matrix (CMC) to tolerate high friction heating.

DARPA initially conducted the program with US Naval Research Lab backing, though the Navy dropped out. The development was performed by the Boeing Phantom Works, with Aerojet as the engine contractor. Following airdrops of inert airframes and booster tests from 2005, the initial all-up flight was in September 2007, followed by a second flight in January 2008. Neither of the first two flights was a complete success, though useful data was obtained.

HyFly test article on F-15

The projected operational derivative of HyFly was envisioned as being built of titanium and would have a "slip-in" launch booster, fitted inside the missile and discarded after burnout. It would have GPS-INS guidance and possibly a terminal seeker, and submunition or unitary payloads. A ship or submarine launched weapon would be about 6.5 meters (21 feet 4 inches) long, weigh 1,725 kilograms (3,800 pounds), and have a range of 1,100 kilometers (600 nautical miles). However, the project was abandoned in 2011.

The Pentagon does seem to still be interested in high-speed cruise missiles, though the inspiration appears to be the "X-51A Waverider" -- a hypersonic (Mach 5+) test vehicle with a scramjet engine, launched off a B-52 and accelerated to operational speed with a solid-rocket booster. The program was conducted by the USAF, DARPA, the US National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA), Boeing, and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. After three initial flights that didn't meet spec, the X-51A finally was able to sustain Mach 5+ flight for over 210 seconds in 2013.

Following up from the X-51A, Lockheed Martin is now working on a "High-Speed Strike Missile (HSSM)", while DARPA is working on the "High Speed Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC)" and the "Tactical Boost Weapon (TBW)" programs. Nothing has been flown just yet; if anything comes of these efforts, it won't be until well into the next decade.



* This document was derived from a comprehensive survey of cruise missiles of the world, with the first version introduced in 2000. It turned out to be a bad idea; it was unwieldy, patchy, and hard to maintain, so I deleted it in 2014. I then decided that a more selective read, focused on US cruise missiles, would work better, and would also be easy to convert into an ebook.


* As concerns copyrights and permissions for this document, all illustrations and images credited to me are public domain. I reserve all rights to my writings. However, if anyone does want to make use of my writings, just contact me, and we can chat about it. I'm lenient in giving permissions, usually on the basis of being properly credited.

* Sources include:

Revision history:

   v1.0.0 / 01 may 16