The US Air Force is looking for a new air-launched weapon from stand-off ranges.
The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center has asked interested vendors to respond to its request for information for the Stand-off Attack Weapon (SoAW) for a scheduled discussion on September 27 at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
Assuming the program is approved, the service wants to begin fielding the weapon by 2030-33. Prototyping and demonstration are expected to start by 2025.
The air force already fields two stand-off weapons: the Lockheed Martin Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) and its variant Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM).
The latest variant of the JASSM, the AGM-158D, is scheduled to be operational by 2024. It has a range of up to 1,000 nautical miles (1,852 kilometers/1,151 miles) — twice that of its predecessor, the AGM-158B. It comes at the steep price of $1.5 million per unit.
The LRASM can strike targets from up to 300 nautical miles (560 kilometers/350 miles) and comes at an even steeper $3 million.
Cost-Effective Weapon Required
Citing various studies, Air Force Magazine wrote that the prohibitive costs of the two stand-off munitions would perhaps render them “unaffordable and unsustainable” in a Pacific campaign with thousands of targets.
The outlet added that the service has pursued a two-decade-old strategy of using a “mixture of single-use standoff weapons and inexpensive, stand-in weapons delivered by survivable/stealthy aircraft that can re-attack many times.” The latest solicitation is perhaps for the latter category.
The SoAW solicitation comes more than two months after the service awarded initial weapon system integration contracts for the Stand-in Attack Weapon (SiAW) to three companies.
The SiAW is intended to penetrate anti-access/area denial environments and is based on Lockheed Martin’s AGM-88G Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile – Extended Range, still in the development phase, which has a range of 300 kilometers (186 miles).
Fellow with the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, Mark Gunzinger, told the outlet that the SoAW “could be a mid-range weapon in the SiAW class.”
“The need for these mid-range weapons that are survivable and can be carried in greater numbers internally by stealthy aircraft was one insight developed during the Air Force’s ‘operational imperative’ work.”