Did The U.S. Use New Joint Air-To-Ground Missile To Kill Iran’s General Soleimani?

https://www.forbes.com/sites/sebastienroblin/2020/01/04/did-the-pentagon-use-new-joint-air-to-ground-missiles-in-killing-of-general-soleimani/#792e582a4bb6

Flaming wreckage of convoy carrying Iranian Gen. Qasem Solemaini after U.S. drone strike.

The killing via drone strike of Iranian Quds Force commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Front (PMF) militias, just outside Baghdad International Airport on Jan. 3 may have immense consequences for the Middle East, including the non-trivial potential of triggering an escalation dynamic leading to war.

The technical means by which the deadly U.S. air strikes on a PMF convoy was effected is of decidedly secondary importance, but the attack nonetheless may have left behind evidence that the Pentagon employed a deadly new weapon.

Mohamed Saleh Alftayeh, a military analyst specializing in the Middle East, drew my attention to a photo posted on an Iraqi Facebook group appearing to show fragments recovered at the airport from one of the missiles used in the attack.

The origin, a Facebook group Tactical Cell, describes itself as an “independent investigative military cell, concerned with the Iraqi and regional military situation, and which is managed by independent military officers and activists.” According to Alftayeh, the group mostly posts content associated with PMF militias.

The photo shows print on the fragment that notes the missile weighs 52 kilograms (114.6 pounds) and requires two persons to lift.

Some analysts have identified the munition as an AGM-114 Hellfire missile, a deadly supersonic anti-tank weapon now used extensively by the U.S. military to attack diverse point targets. In addition to the latest laser-guided AGM-114R ‘Romeo’ type, there’s also a mysterious Hellfire variant that uses pop-out sword blades to kill targets with minimal collateral damage.

But there’s a problem: Hellfire variants have listed weights between 45 to 50 kilograms. And given that the targeted car was reduced to a blazing wreck, we can rule out the use of the blade-armed Hellfire.

In fact, a weapon intended to replace the Hellfire, called the AGM-179 Joint-Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) does weigh 52 kilos (115 pounds), and is designed to be fired from the same helicopters and drones. It essentially plugs an advanced guidance-cone into the body of a standard AGM-114R missile (the motor, flight control system and its multi-purpose warhead).

JAGM was funded jointly by the Army and Marine Corps (and originally the Navy) to replace several kinds of air-launched precision missiles including long-range optically-guided TOW anti-tank guided missile and both radar-guided AGM-114L and laser-guided AGM-114R variants of the Hellfire missile.

The JAGM is designed to be more flexible and resistant to anti-missile countermeasures by incorporating two seekers. A semi-active laser guidance seeker automatically adjusts the missile’s course to home in on a target painted by a laser targeter.

Additionally, a millimeter-wave radar seeker allows the missile to be used as a fire-and-forget weapon capable of homing in on moving vehicles. The firer can even switch the missile mid-flight from laser to radar-guided mode, if they need to perform evasive maneuvers instead of continuing to track their target with the laser designator.

While weapons with multi-mode seekers cost more—a budget document suggests a cost of $238,000 per unit, over twice the price of most late-model AGM-114s—they are praised by pilots because they allow more flexible planning as only one type of missile can engage different targets under varying circumstances.

The JAGM’s fuse can also be programmed to airburst against personnel targets on open ground, or delay detonation for greater effectiveness versus bunkers. The missile has a maximum range of 5 miles and reportedly remains effective against targets obscured by smoke, fog or dust.

Ultimately the Army plans to procure over 20,000 JAGMs, and in mid-December 2019 the service asked Lockheed to double its production rate from 50 to 100 per month. The missile might eventually be integrated on Navy MH-60R Seahawk helicopters and Marine KC-130 Harvest Hawk tanker/gunships.

Eventually, an “Increment 2”JAGM model adding a third, infrared-type seeker and extending range to 7.5 miles may also be in the offing, and the program had in the past proposed a 13-mile range model for use by the Marine Corps’ Harrier and F-35B Lightning jump jets.

However, this week’s strike was reportedly executed by an MQ-9 Reaper drone, which (in the U.S. military) is only operated by the U.S. Air Force—not a participant in the JAGM program.

However, the defense budget documents show that the Air Force requested 60 JAGMs from the Army specifically to arm its MQ-9 Reaper drones.

An article by retired Air Force General James Poss also states the service has plans to deploy JAGM on the Reaper, as its fire-and-forget capability is seen as ideal for engaging the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp Navy’s unconventional swarming motor boat tacticsOther sources have indicated integration with MQ-9 is planned for.

Admittedly, there remains no confirmation in open sources such integration has been carried out. However, it’s possible the JAGM’s similarity to the Hellfire allowed integration to be expedited without much fanfare.

An annual report by the Pentagon’s Department Of Testing and Evaluation notes that it performed flight tests satisfactorily, and that the weapon “maintains the lethality of the legacy [AGM-114R] HELLFIRE Romeo against target-representative light and heavy armored ground combat vehicles, trucks, and boats. The Army is working on adjusting the fuse delay timing to improve JAGM lethality against bunkers, adobe walls, and personnel in the open to either meet or exceed legacy lethality against these targets.”

Earlier identified vulnerabilities to hacking had apparently been addressed, though at the time of the report’s writing, cockpit instrumentation for interfacing with JAGM was deemed excessively slow and not yet suitable for operational use.

Ultimately, the fragments photographed in Iraq don’t by themselves confirm whether a JAGM missile was used or some other 52-kilo class armament.

Regardless, it seems clear given the large scale of JAGM production underway that this costlier and more capable munition will soon begin increasing the effectiveness of U.S. military drones and helicopters, while reducing their vulnerability to enemy fire.

However, the ability to kill a person more efficiently is by no means the same as the ability to judge whether doing so is a wise decision—by far the larger question haunting many observers of the rising tensions in the Middle East.

 

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One Comment on “Did The U.S. Use New Joint Air-To-Ground Missile To Kill Iran’s General Soleimani?”

  1. OVERLORD Says:

    JAGM is really for contested environments by near peer adversaries, It was most likely AGM-114R.


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