The US Army is getting a deadly new missile to replace the Hellfire and strike terrorists from helicopters and drones

US Army/Tad Browning, Army Operational Test Command Public AffairsPilots fire the new Joint Air-to-Ground Missile during testing at Cibola Range, Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, in support of deliberate-attack mission against armoured-ground-vehicle targets.
  • The Joint Air-to-Ground missile has been cleared by the Army for initial production.
  • The missile, developed by Lockheed, is supposed to replace the long-serving Hellfire missile.
  • It is designed for standoff strikes against fixed and moving targets, on land and at sea.

The Joint Air-to-Ground missile has been cleared to begin low-rate initial production, weapons maker Lockheed Martin said on June 27.

The JAGM is the successor to the vaunted Hellfire missile and is meant to provide precision standoff-strike capability against high-value fixed and moving targets, both armoured and unarmored, on land and at sea, even in poor weather conditions.

The new missile combines semi-active laser guidance, like that used on the Hellfire II, and millimetre-wave radar, like that used by the Longbow Hellfire, intoa single system, which is paired with the warhead, motor, and flight-control system of the Hellfire Romeo missile.

Lockheed was the sole bidder for the missile contract, taking it on in summer 2015, and the weapons maker will give the Army 2,631 missiles under the production contract, Col. David Warnick, the Army program manager for Joint Attack Munition Systems, told Defence News.

Hellfire Missille USS Jason DunhamU.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Deven B. KingSailors load an AGM-114N Hellfire missile onto an SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter on the flight deck of the guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham, October 12, 2012.

The Hellfire was originally designed to be a 100-pound armour-piercing weapon to destroy tanks, but it has seen extensive use in the war against ISIS as a precision-guided munition that can be fired from planes, helicopters and drones. The Army has had to increase production for fear of running out.

The JAGM is to replace the Hellfire on all the platforms that fire the older missile. The new missile is also expected to be used on unmanned vehicles, like the MQ-9 Reaper drone. During the engineering and manufacturing development phase, the JAGM was tested and qualified on the AH-64E Apache and AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters.

During testing, pilots spoke highly of the JAGM, particularly of the ability to toggle between semi-active-laser and radio-frequency guidance within seconds.

“Using a SAL missile, the last six seconds of the missile flight is the most critical to keep your laser sight on target,” Michael Kennedy, an experimental test pilot with the Aviation Flight Test Directorate at Redstone Test Center, said an Army release earlier this year.

“If you’re getting shot at and your line of sight goes off the target, your missile misses,” Kennedy said. “JAGM can start off using the laser, then transition to the radar portion and still hit the target if the crew has to use evasive maneuvers.”

Hellfire missilesUS ArmyUS Army soldiers load an AGM-114 Hellfire missile on an AH-64E Apache helicopter in Kunduz, Afghanistan, May 31, 2017.

Lockheed said it had successfully carried out 10 limited-user test flights in the months leading up to approval for low-rate initial production.

A Pentagon Director of Operational Test and Evaluation report released in January said the Army carried out two successful ground launches and 20 successful air launches during fiscal year 2017.

“The test results demonstrated the system’s combat effectiveness and technical maturity,” Lockheed said in a release. “Additionally, the program successfully conducted supplier and prime contractor production readiness reviews establishing the program’s readiness to move into LRIP.”

The JAGM system has demonstrated more than 95% reliability in flight testing, Lockheed said in its release, adding that the system is being built into the production line by the same team that has churned out more than 75,000 Hellfire missiles.

JAGM’s development has not been without issues, though.

The DOTE report said several technical issues cropped up during testing and that, on several occasions during tests, the missile missed its target or failed to detonate. The Army said that the issues that appeared in earlier tests have been corrected,according to Defence News.

Warnick, of the Army’s Joint Attack Munition Systems program, said operational testing would take place in the 2019 fiscal year, which runs from October 2018 to September 2019. That will be followed by a full-rate production review between March and September 2020, he told Defence News.

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