The Air Force has picked a base at which to test its new long-range anti-ship missile.
Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the force’s bomber fleet, authorized Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota to be the base for early operational capacity testing of the AGM-158C LRASM, the command said early June 2018.
The B-1 bombers and their crews based at Ellsworth will be the first to train and qualify on the missile, and their use of it will mark the first time the weapon has gone from the test phase to the operational phase.
Aircrews from the 28th Bomb Wing were to begin training with the missile last week, according to an Air Force release.
“We are excited to be the first aircraft in the US Air Force to train on the weapon,” said Col. John Edwards, 28th Bomb Wing commander. “This future addition to the B-1 bombers’ arsenal increases our lethality in the counter-sea mission to support combatant commanders worldwide.”
(U.S. Navy photo)
The announcement comes less than a month after the Air Force and Lockheed Martin conducted a second successful test of two production-configuration LRASMs on a B-1 bomber off the coast of California. In those tests, the missiles navigated to a moving maritime target using onboard sensors and then positively identified their target.
The LRASM program was launched in 2009, amid the White House’s refocus on relations in the Pacific region and after a nearly two-decade period in which the Navy deemphasized anti-ship weaponry.
The missile is based on Lockheed’s extended-range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, with which it shares 88% of its components, including the airframe, engine, anti-jam GPS system, and 1,000-pound penetrating warhead.
It has been upgraded with a multimode seeker that allows it to conduct semiautonomous strikes, seeking out specific targets within a group of surface ships in contested environments while the aircraft that launched it remains out of range of enemy fire.
It had its first successful test in August 2013, dropping from a B-1 and striking a maritime target. The LRASM has moved at double the pace of normal acquisition programs, according to Aviation Week. The Pentagon cleared it for low-rate initial production in late 2016 to support its deployment on B-1 bombers in 2018 and on US Navy F/A-18 fighters in 2019.
“It gives us the edge back in offensive anti-surface warfare,” Capt. Jaime Engdahl, head of Naval Air Systems Command’s precision-strike weapons office, told Aviation Week in early 2017.
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