Over a month after the Pentagon announced its plans to accelerate its pursuit to accelerate the procurement of two critical ship-killing missile systems, the US Air Force granted Lockheed Martin a billion-dollar contract.

As part of its military modernization plans, the Pentagon has been ramping up the arsenal of its long-range missiles, seeking to double the combined annual acquisition of the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) and the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) from 500 to well over a thousand. Thus, awarding over a $1 billion contract marks a significant milestone for the acceleration.

According to the Defense Department, the granted deal will cover a nearly $750.6 million contract for the JASSM B-2 for Australia through August 18, 2027. It will also fund the missile systems’ containers, tooling, test equipment, and spares. Meanwhile, the second half of the contract, valued at approximately $443.8 million, will include the production of LRASM Lot 7 for the US Air Force and US Navy through January 18, 2027. In addition, it will provide Dummy Air Training Missiles, tooling, and testing equipment.

A Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) integrated on F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, 2005. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Briefly, the JASSM is a long-range, subsonic precision-guided cruise missile with a range of over 300 nautical miles. It can be launched from various aircraft, including the stealth bomber B-2 Spirit. On the other hand, LRASM is a new-generation anti-ship cruise missile based on the JASSM, thus sharing several common parts with the latter missile system. The LRASM can strike enemy surface ships within a range of over 1,000 nautical miles.

The increased number of the two key missile systems had previously prompted Lockheed Martin to open a second production line to meet demand, integrating more automation and facility upgrades.

Growing tensions in the Pacific have urged Pentagon to enhance the ship-killing capacity of US forces to counter China’s aggression and prepare for a potential invasion of Taiwan while increasing deterrence capabilities to address North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile threats.

Geopolitical Shift in the Pacific Region

There has been a recent geopolitical shift in the Asia-Pacific region, with China’s rapid economic growth and rising military power. This and other factors that simmer tensions between superpowers, concerns regarding regional security have become increasingly apparent and a top priority not just by the nations within the territory but also by the leading peacekeeper guardian, the United States.

To respond to the evolving geopolitical dynamics in the region, the US has poured significant funding to strengthen its military presence and has conducted more military exercises. It also signed new defense agreements with longtime allies like Australia, Japan, and the Philippines and worked on building new relationships with countries such as India.

But as things happen between China’s assertive subjugation to take Taiwan and the US continuing to support the preparedness of the island country with the arms and weapons it needs to maintain its sovereignty, the uncertainty in regional stability will most likely continue to deteriorate over time.

Most war games conducted in recent months regarding the consequence of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan suggested that the island country will struggle to restock its arsenal during the conflict, unlike Ukraine, due to a naval blockade. Unless otherwise, Washington will outright intervene, but the odds of Beijing taking over Taiwan remains inevitable. Not to mention how the US intervention could only make matters worst and drag out any potential conflict, thus increasing its cost. Moreover, the confrontation will inflict heavy casualties on Chinese and Taiwanese forces, making the challenges of resupplying the island country more apparent.

Ramping up Missile Systems

With robust missile systems such as the JASSM and LRASM, among other advanced military equipment, the US seeks to deter and de-escalate tensions, maintain stability, and mitigate any potential conflicts in the region.

The new missile systems, particularly the LRASM, have been integrated and tested for launch compatibility in platforms, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon multi-role aircraft, in addition to the currently outfitted the Air Force’s B-1 Lancer bomber plane and the Navy’s F-18 Hornet fighter aircraft. Additionally, Lockheed Martin has looked into using the revered High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) as another launch platform for the long-range, highly maneuverable cruise missile.

Besides doubling the arsenal for JASSM and LRASM, the Pentagon has also been mulling over ramping up the annual procurement of Tomahawk cruise missiles for the US Navy by sixfold.

Other than that, new and upcoming missile systems are being reviewed and considered into service, such as the Long-Range Standoff Missile (LRSO) designed to replace the AGM-129 air-launched cruise missile and the promising Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), a scramjet-powered cruise missile project in development in response to the growing hypersonic race among superpowers.

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