The AGM-154 JSOW is an air-launched ground-attack munition. JSOW stands for Joint StandOff Weapon. It is an unpowered weapon with an aerodynamic airframe and small deploying glide wings which is guided by GPS/INS to its target. The U.S. military first used the JSOW in combat in January 1999; on the 25th of that month, U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornets from the carrier USS Carl Vinson dropped JSOW units onto Iraqi air-defense targets over the southern no-fly zone.

The AGM-154 is designed to allow strike sorties to be flown with fewer aircraft and higher survivability rates, a natural outgrowth of the American tendency to prefer the expenditure of firepower or materièl as opposed to human risk. It does this by allowing the launching aircraft to drop their munitions farther from the target, in order to avoid exposing themselves to ground fire. With sufficient altitude, it is likely that the JSOW can glide around 30 to 40 miles. This allows the strike aircraft to avoid point defenses such as SAM and AAA emplacements; in addition, it allows them to attack from anywhere within a circle over the target covering from around 2700 to 4800 square miles. Fewer jamming assets are required. The guidance of the weapon using autonomous systems and GPS/INS means that no designation platforms (laser target illumination aircraft or ground personnel) need be risked.

Although the JSOW cannot match the accuracy of a typical LGB, it can be deployed in large numbers by fewer aircraft since the aircraft need not make a pass over their target for each ordnance drop. All munitions can be dispensed from a relatively safe distance. In addition, the payload of the JSOW series can be chosen to compensate for this.

There are three planned versions of the JSOW (which Tom Clancy would have us believe is nicknamed the Stealth Pig by its users). They are:

  • AGM-154A: Light target attack/area attack. This variant of the weapon dispenses a payload of BLU-97 anti-personnel and -light structure or -vehicle attack bomblets over an area approximately the size of an American football field.
  • AGM-154B: Anti-armor attack. The -B version dispenses the heavier, top-attack anti-armor/anti-personnel BLU-108 bomblets. It carries fewer of these bulkier bomblets, trading coverage for punch. Should be available in late 2001.
  • AGM-154C: Structure attack/hard target attack. This final version will deliver a standard 500 lb. blast warhead (such as that found on the Mk. 82 air-dropped LGB), and would be used against structural targets of high value (air defense control facilities, fuel storage, bunkers, etc.) It's planned to reach IOC in 2002.

Development of the AGM-154 was begun in 1992 by Texas Instruments' Defense Systems & Electronics group. It progressed through initial evaluation testing in 1996 and 1997. In 1997, the TI DS&E group was sold to Raytheon. Testing continued, with a reported 42-for-44 (96%+) success rate at Eglin AFB. Earlier problems mating the AGM-154 to the F-16 aircraft proved to be related to a non-weapon subassembly, and (the reports claim) was fixed.

Some revealing numbers can be found on the Federation of American Scientists' web page (http://www.fas.org), which notes that:

On 29 December 1999 Raytheon Systems Company, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $109,573,867 modification to previously awarded contract N00019-99-C-1014 to exercise an option for the full rate production Lot 2 of the Joint Standoff Weapon AGM-154A for the U.S. Navy (414) and U.S. Air Force (74). Work will be performed in Tucson, Ariz., and was expected to be completed by March 2002.

Doing the math gives us {$109,573,867 / (414 + 74)} = $224,536.61 per Lot 2 unit.

While that's a lot for what is essentially just a fancy gravity bomb, it compares favorably to the Tomahawk, which even in its cheapest GPS incarnation costs approximately $750K. It fails to offer the long range of the Tomahawk, naturally (between 250 and 500 Nautical Miles). Plain Mk. 82 Laser-Guided Bombs cost in the neighborhood of $20,000.

Here are some specs, courtesy of FAS:

Mission: Close air support, interdiction, amphibious strike and anti-surface warfare
Variants: AGM-154A ( Baseline), AGM-154B (Anti-Armor), AGM-154C (Unitary)
Guidance: 154A: GPS/INS 154B: JSOW airframe -- GPS/INS; BLU-108 submunitions -- two-color infrared sensors; 154C: GPS/INS with a terminal seeker and man- in-the-loop data link
Range: 12 nm (24km) Low altitude launch (unpowered), 40 nm (64 km) High altitude launch (unpowered) ->120 nm (200 km) Powered
Development cost: 154A:$417.9 million; 154B: $227.8 million;154C $452.4 million
Acquisition unit cost: 154A: $282,000; 154B:$484,167; 154C: $719,012
Production unit cost: 154A: $246,585; 154B: $429,929; 154C: $661,013
Quantity: (A)Navy: 8,800; Air Force: 3,000 (B)Navy: 1,200; Air Force: 3,000 (C)Navy 7,800
Platforms: (A)B-1, F-16, F-15E, F/A-18C/D, F/A-18E/F, AV-8B, P-3, S-3 (B)B-1, F-16 C/D, F-15E, F/A-18C/D, F/A-18E/F, AV-8B, P-3, S-3 (C) F/A-18C/D, F/A-18E/F, AV-8B, P-3, S-3

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