A Message Sent with Missiles

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BY STEVE RUSSELL – Soldiers today have overcome many previously uncontrollable elements in battle. Picking out elusive enemies in remote or populated locations is a formidable task, especially when coupled with adverse weather, poor visibility, and hardened cover.

America’s armed forces have continually shown their innovation in the use of whatever our nation provides-from rifles to vehicles to drones with remotely fired airborne missiles. The combining of capabilities seen to date has far exceeded what the original weapon designers intended.


Many of the most devastating attacks on our terrorist enemies have been with the use of long-range and remotely fired weapons systems in tandem with our special operations community. No one anticipated in advance how important and effective these systems would be. Think of the killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein and key Al Qaeda leaders like Anwar Al Awlaki and Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. Every branch of our armed services has used missiles to score remarkable victories on those who would harm America

Yet America’s enemies, having failed to counter these missile capabilities abroad, may now have an opportunity to see them defeated on American soil. As the Pentagon scrambles to meet increasingly austere political budget targets, missile systems are under severe attack. As Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley said recently, “It’s safe to say that every single line of the budget is under scrutiny.”

America is on the verge of major breakthroughs in technology, inter-service operability and savings with the Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM) program.  Under political pressure, the Army and Navy have been forced to consider abandoning JAGM. Some short-term savings may assuage temporary budgetary needs, but canceling the program will have major long-term costs, both in terms of dollars and lives needlessly lost.

This state-of-the-art, air-launched JAGM would replace three older missiles developed in the late 1960s and 1970s — the Hellfire, the Maverick and the Air-Launched TOW, all of which are nearing the end of their service lives. The need for an advanced missile system has long been recognized.

Killing the JAGM program would be a huge mistake. First, the Pentagon will save no money in the long run. Replacing three missiles with one simplifies logistics and reduces inventory and training costs. All the branches of the military could have one configuration that will do more tactically than the dozens of variants of missiles currently fielded. The JAGM also uses fewer parts than the legacy missile systems and can launch from both fixed wing and rotary aircraft.

The JAGMs are also far more effective than the existing missiles, since they can operate day or night, in the presence of countermeasures and bad weather, and can hit static or moving targets. As a result, studies show that where it would take 700 Hellfires to neutralize a set of targets, just 400 JAGMs would be needed. That saves more money in terms of the cost of the missiles, and it means fewer sorties, which translate into less risk (and cost) for our fighters.

Since the only alternative is to upgrade aging missiles, the Pentagon would have to spend a comparable amount in qualification and integration costs anyway — but would end up with a stockpile of missiles with 40-year-old limitations. You can overhaul a ’70 Buick to give it the performance and safety features of a 2011 model, but not without a cost comparable to the price of a new one. Abandoning JAGM also means flushing more than $900 million in taxpayer money the Pentagon has already spent on development down the pipe.

Killing the JAGM program hurts military R&D efforts by breaking faith with our defense industry and American workers. The companies competing to supply this missile have made significant investment and have met every milestone the Pentagon required. What sort of message does it send if all this R&D time and money never leads to a production line? To meet our needs, perhaps we are hoping to import some inferior Asian design, along with everything else in America.

Most important of all, jettisoning the JAGM program places our warriors at needless risk. As with many other breakthrough weapons technologies, the JAGM protects the men and women fighting our nation’s battles while advancing their ability to defeat America’s enemies.

Let’s find the terrorists and vaporize them with this capability before they get a chance to pull off more plots that kill 3000 Americans going to work on a September morning.

LTC Steve Russell, US Army, (Ret.), is the author of “We Got Him!” A Memoir of the Hunt and Capture of Saddam Hussein. He is the founder and chairman of Vets for Victory (www.vets4victory.com), and serves as the Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee in the Oklahoma Senate.