The U.S. Army's plans to develop a missile guided by a sophisticated tri-mode seeker are falling victim to the budget ax after spending roughly $900 million in pursuit of the technology.

Reaction from the two industry teams vying for the work is mixed. Lockheed Martin, which is behind in developing an affordable imaging infrared (IR) sensor for its seeker, is eager to continue its work on technology development of a dual-mode version under the $64.15 million, 27-month contract extension.

Raytheon, by contrast, says it can build the high-end tri-mode seeker at a low enough cost to bypass the dual-mode, incremental solution. This is because the company can build on its Air Force-funded work developing a tri-mode seeker—including an uncooled imaging infrared sensor—for its 250-lb. Small-Diameter Bomb II program.

The Army's decision to curtail work on the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) is the latest chapter of its long saga to replace the Hellfire, Maverick and air-launched TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) weapons with a single platform. Although originally a final decision on the competing designs was due late last year, the service opted in its latest budget request to curtail plans for JAGM due to cost, forcing program officials to go back to the drawing board as to how to engage moving targets on the battlefield.

JAGM has since been “scaled back” into two increments, says Brig. Gen. Ole Knudson, Army program executive officer for missiles and space. The focus now is on building a dual-mode weapon that can handle the majority of requirements while delaying introduction of a more expensive tri-mode model into the fleet, he told Aviation Week during this month's 15th Space and Missile Defense Conference here.

In the near term, Knudson says, the Army intends to add a low-frequency millimeter wave radar—optimized to track moving targets—to Hellfire-R missiles. The existing semi-active laser seeker is not suited for bad weather.

The goal is to build a missile at roughly $125,000 per unit, a 30% reduction in unit cost and up to a 60% reduction on total development cost based on earlier estimates of the JAGM program, he said. The Army will conduct a formal cost estimate for the Increment 1, dual-mode version prior to entering development, says Dan O'Boyle, an Army spokesman.

What will be lacking from the dual-mode missiles is an imaging infrared seeker, an element that Lockheed Martin officials said drove a disproportionate amount of the cost into the design. This sensor is used to classify or identify a target, and it is also used in coordination with the radar and laser modes in the endgame of an engagement to precisely guide the weapon to its destination. Infrared sensors often require expensive onboard cooling to function correctly in a variety of operational environments because they rely on heat-sensitive detectors.

“It was unaffordable,” says Ken Musculus, Lockheed Martin director of air-to-ground missiles. “It turns out that [imaging IR] drives a lot of the cost within the seeker.”

To develop the dual-mode version, the Army is extending JAGM technology design time by 27 months. Lockheed Martin and a Raytheon/Boeing team have been working on JAGM concepts for years, and Lockheed Martin won a predecessor program, called the Joint Common Missile, only to have it canceled by the Pentagon.

On Aug. 15, the Army issued its contract extension to Lockheed Martin to focus on the new, dual-mode guidance section design. The company plans to fly a seeker similar to the final configuration platform during a captive carry test in October, Musculus says.

Army officials say they are meeting with Raytheon to issue a similar extension. However, Raytheon argues that it can deliver the tri-mode seeker at a low enough cost to bypass the dual-mode, Increment 1 option, says J.R. Smith, JAGM business development director. “We think the right answer is not to back up . . . not after spending more than $900 million” on this technology, he says, noting the total amount spent by the Pentagon in developing technologies for JAGM, including the earlier Joint Common Missile program.

Raytheon is able to substantiate its claim of a low-price tri-mode seeker owing to its win of the Air Force-led Small-Diameter Bomb (SDB) II program, Smith says. The company has for two years been working under a $450 million development contract to design and test a 250-lb. weapon capable of striking moving targets through all weather conditions. Smith says the exact same tri-mode seeker being tested for SDB II would be integrated onto the company's version of JAGM, allowing the Army to reap the benefits of the Air Force's investment. That design employs an uncooled imaging infrared, a differentiation that Raytheon officials say helped them win the SDB II contract over Lockheed Martin in 2010. During that competition, Lockheed had designed a cooled imaging infrared sensor.

Meanwhile, Raytheon's SDB II effort is proceeding. Despite a six-month delay to the first guided-test-vehicle flight that took place in July, the weapon tracked and destroyed a moving target using its tri-mode seeker. During that test, the weapon, designated the GBU-53/B, was launched from an F-15E. The next guided-test-vehicle demonstration is slated for October.