US, Poland accelerate F-16’s Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missiles deal amid Russia tensions
In August last year we analyzed the reasons for the possible Polish purchase of the Lockheed Martin AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missiles (JASSM). Now, in the light of the Ukrainian crisis, a contextual change has occurred and the deal seems to be closed-up soon.Nevertheless, there are still some unaswered questions.
The latest development about the Polish air-launched cruise missiles deal started with the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DCSA) and the US State Department giving consent for the Polish procurement of the JASSMs in their AGM-158A variant, along with a modernization bundle for the Polish Air Force’s F-16C/D Block 52+ jet fighters. The Congress received the information on the potential transaction on Sep. 17 .
The contract assumes that Poland will obtain 40 AGM-158A JASSM missiles manufactured by Lockheed Martin with 2 additional combat-ready AGM-158A that will be used for testing, along with the testing instrumentation and self-destruction system, 2 training missiles with the same instrumentation, and 2 missiles for certification purposes.
Additionally, the mission computers of the Polish F-16s will be modernized, up to the Tape M6.5 standard, in order to integrate both the AGM-158 JASSM cruise missiles and some other new weaponry, including the AIM-120D AMRAAM, AIM-9X Sidewinder Block II air-to-air missiles and the SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs).
As we can see, JASSM is just the tip of the iceberg.
M6.5 software was designed in order to meet the needs of the European users of the F-16 jets, dubbed EPAF (European Participating Air Forces). There are some rumours that the Polish Viper jet fighters will also get new Electronic Warfare suites.
Defence24.com claims that additionally GPS navigation system of the Polish Vipers will be jam-proofed, and the Link 16 communications suite improved. The deal will also include logistics bundle, along with transportation and storage cases for the missiles, spare parts, equipment and technical documentation. The media outlet also gained access to some unconfirmed information, according to which the modernization of the Polish Vipers is planned to start in 2015.
The value of the potential contract is yet to be unveiled, but rumors are that it is going to be approximately 500 million USD.
There are some doubts that still need to be addressed though.
The Polish MoD states that potential signing of the contract for the procurement of the JASSM will happen in October or November, while the deliveries are a matter of 2 years. According to the statements made by Tomasz Siemoniak, the Polish Minister of Defense, the US is willing to conduct the deal swiftly. The negotiations regarding the JASSM deal took place last April, when Chuck Hagel visited Poland.
Another issue is of a different nature.
There are two versions of the missile, one with a range of 370 km, and another, with a range of almost 1,000 km, which is called JASSM-ER.
In the last days, some rumours surfaced that Poland is going to get the ER version as well – it was all published by General Bogusław Pacek, who is one of the advisors in the Polish MoD, via his twitter account, but the news was denied shortly later. Other media outlets, such as Dziennik Zbrojny seem to suggest that Poland will get the missile with a shorter range. The justification is simple – integrating the ER version with the Polish F-16 may be expensive since in the U.S. these missiles are used solely by the B-1B bombers.
Moreover, the deal will probably not be executed too quickly, since Lockheed Martin has a capability of manufacturing no more than 20 AGM-158As per month whilst JASSM-ER missiles are produced simultaneously, and the US plans to acquire 360 pieces per year, starting from FY 2017.
The Polish order thus seems to be beneficial for Lockheed: once the U.S. forces resign from acquiring the basic version, the production may continue to equip the Polish Air Force. JASSM-ER is to enter the full-scale production from 2015. Dziennik Zbrojny claims that due to the higher production cost (caused by the lack of other foreign sales) the Poles may pay as much for the A version, as the Americans would pay for the ER variant. Polish procurement of the ER has been unfortunately postponed, and it would surely be a solution to the issue. Another way to walk around the problem would be choice of an alternative weapon, such as the Turkish Roketsan SOM.
JASSM will significantly enhance the deterrence capabilities of Poland. JASSM-ER would be even a better choice in that respect. Poland currently executes Polish Tusks modernization program, which will enhance the capabilities of the Polish Armed Forces.
The program also includes NSM missiles and Homar long range unguided missile launchers.
Taking into account the fact that the Russian threat has become more realistic, procuring the new weapon system may be a logic step towards increasing the Polish security.
Jacek Siminski for TheAviationist
Image Credit: Wikimedia