Along with 57 Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles (TLAM), 19 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER) missiles were fired into chemical weapons targets in Syria this week, in both Damascus and Homs.
The JASSM was developed by Lockheed Martin and fielded in 2009 — the extended range varient came into play in 2014. Much of the missile’s operational usefulness can be gleaned from its name. Of course, “air-to-surface” means that it’s fired from the air toward intended targets on the ground. This might be intuitive when it comes to gravity-operated bombs, but the distinction must be made when it comes to missiles. “Standoff” means that the missile is fired from a distance, so the shooter (in this week’s case, B-1B Lancers) can engage the target from a safe distance. The extended range version can push the range of these missiles to over 575 miles, more than doubling the range of the original JASSM.
As you can see in the picture above, the missile does not look like a typical missile, certainly not in the way that an ICBM or a Tomahawk appears — it looks more like an unmanned plane when it’s in flight. It can be launched from many different types of aircraft, including the B-1B Lancer, B-52, F-15E, F-16 and a few more aerial platforms. As the target is locked and the missile detaches from the plane, the two wings flip out and the device uses both internal navigational systems alongside GPS to find its mark.
Lockheed Martin says that, “A 2,000-pound class weapon with a penetrator/blast fragmentation warhead, JASSM employs precision routing and guidance in adverse weather, day or night, using a state-of-the-art infrared seeker in addition to the anti-jam GPS to find a specific aimpoint on the target. Its stealthy airframe makes it extremely difficult to defeat.”