Tags: Cruise | Missile | Gap | May | Help | Explain | Iraq

Cruise Missile Gap May Help Explain Iraq Bypass

Thursday, 10 January 2002 12:00 AM

The Department of Defense in its $1 billion cruise missile budget authority for FY 2001 and FY 2002 was clear about the crisis: "The United States has a shortage of conventionally armed, air-launched cruise missiles; specifically, it has about 60 of these missiles but needs about 1,000.”

During the critical early days of any offensive into Iraq, cruise missiles would be the vanguard to attack systems and tactical aircraft; deny forward movement of enemy forces; neutralize enemy operations; suppress enemy air defenses; attack electrical generating facilities, command and control nodes, and weapons assembly/storage facilities.

Currently, however, according to the Pentagon budget document, the Air Force is scrambling and improvising when it comes to procuring these key tools of warfare – relying on converting the nuclear payloads of aging Air Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCMs) to conventional missiles (CALCMs).

The United States originally procured 1,715 nuclear-tipped air-launched cruise missiles. Converting this stock to conventional warheads began in 1986.

The conventionally armed and deadly accurate cruise missiles debuted on international television during the 1991 Gulf War. They quickly became the weapon of choice to enforce foreign policy.

For example: In 1998’s Operation Desert Fox, the four-day punitive bombing campaign in Iraq, the U.S. expended 90 air-launched cruise missiles. During that same operation, ships and submarines fired more than 300 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles, or TLAMs, at $1 million a copy.

By April 1999 and the massive bombing campaign in Kosovo, the U.S. Senate was deep in testimony and debate about the depleted inventory of cruise missiles. It became clear to congressional investigators that the Pentagon’s holiday on procuring new systems and armaments during much of the 1990s had come home to roost.

Bottom line: At one point, the Air Force simply ran out of CALCMs during the Kosovo campaign.

The last production line for the Air Launched Cruise Missile had shut down in 1986 and would take 30 months to restart. Its replacement, the Tri-service Stand-off Attack Missile (TSSAM), was canceled in 1994 because its successor was supposed to be cheaper.

But that successor, the $400,000 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), was still in development and would not be available for years.

In the Congressional Record on April 19, 1999, Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, commented in a floor speech: "Given President Clinton's propensity to fire off cruise missiles apparently at whim, and given Secretary Albright's blustery rhetoric, we wonder if anyone in the administration in recent years gave consideration in advance to reopening the closed production lines to allow us to rebuild our inventory before we began the air campaign in Yugoslavia.

"Or did they believe that diplomatic bluster from the State Department would convince adversaries that military confrontations would not happen until our new generation cruise missiles were on line in 3 to 4 years?”

Congressional investigators also pointed to a similar issue with the Navy cruise missile, the Tomahawk. As in the case with the Air Force, the Tomahawk production line had been shut down in anticipation of a new generation of missiles that would not be available before the year 2003.

Which brings us back to the current state of affairs.

According to the Pentagon’s cruise missile budget authority for FY 2001 and FY 2002, the Air Force recently contracted to convert an additional 322 missiles from nuclear to conventional.

The rub, however, said the Pentagon, is that the rehabbed CALCMs are "produced at the expense of nuclear ALCMs, are aging, and are increasingly vulnerable to enemy air defenses.”

The Air Force has taken the nuclear mission away from its B–1 bomber fleet and returned the mission to its 1950s-era B–52s. But advances in technology made by potential enemies make these older bombers and the old CALCMs increasingly vulnerable.

To maintain the utility of the vulnerable B-52s, the DoD is developing the Extended Range Cruise Missile (ERCM) for use on the aging bomber and other strategic and tactical aircraft. The subsonic air-launched cruise missiles will be conventionally armed and will have a range of more than 1,000 miles.

Defense News reported that a F-16 Fighting Falcon successfully launched a joint-air-to-surface standoff missile (JASSM) Nov. 20, 2001.

"This successful launch clears the way for a low-rate initial production decision,” said Terry Little, JASSM program manager.

The JASSM, a 2,250-pound cruise missile carrying a 1,000-pound warhead, can operate in bad weather, day or night, from standoff ranges beyond enemy air defenses.

The Air Force originally planned to buy 2,400 JASSMs, but there are moves to greatly increase that number. Plans call for the missile to be carried on the F-16, B-1B Lancer, B-2 Spirit and B-52 Stratofortress.

But while the CALCM has a range of 600 miles, the JASSM’s range may be less than half that, which will make it hard for the B-52s to fire without getting in harm’s way.

Meanwhile, the Navy is developing the "Tactical Tomahawk” at $750,000 a copy. The Navy wants to buy 1,353 over five years. But the weapon won't be ready until at least 2003.

Meanwhile, the expensive and irreplaceable ammo is being fired away in Afghanistan at a prodigious rate.

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The Department of Defense in its $1 billion cruise missile budget authority for FY 2001 and FY 2002 was clear about the crisis: The United States has a shortage of conventionally armed, air-launched cruise missiles; specifically, it has about 60 of these missiles but needs...
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Thursday, 10 January 2002 12:00 AM
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