Air Weapons: Transports Turned into Bombers


September 16, 2023: The U.S. Air Force has developed a method of launching AGM-158 JASSMs (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile) from C-130 transport aircraft. JASSM is the third family of GPS guided smart bombs to be developed and is the most expensive. The original JDAM bomb kit (added to 500, 1,000 and 2,000 pound bombs), cost $26,000 each. The longer range JSOW (JDAM with wings and more powerful guidance system), cost $460,000 each. The even longer-range JASSM, which has its own jet engine compared to the pure glider JDAM and JSOW, costs over half a million dollars for the 400 kilometer version to over a million dollars for the 900 kilometer JASSM ER.

JASSM missiles are 1,045 kg (2,300 pound) weapons that are basically 455 kg (1,000 pound) JDAMS (GPS guided bombs) with a jet engine added. JASSM was designed to go after enemy air defense systems or targets deep in heavily defended (against air attack) enemy territory. The reason for buying these is to have something to deal with air defenses of a nation like China. The air force and navy planned to buy over 5,000 JASSM, but there has been opposition in the military and in Congress. The missiles are ten times more expensive than a JDAM bomb of the same weight. But the aviators make the argument that many aircraft and pilots would be lost if the air defenses of a nation like, perhaps China, were attacked without using JASSM.

JASSM is stealthy and uses GPS and terminal (infrared) guidance to zero in on heavily defended targets (like air defense sites.) The terminal guidance enables the missile to land within three meters (ten feet) of the aiming point. If there were a war with North Korea, for example, JASSM would be essential to taking out enemy air defenses, or any other targets that have to be hit early in a war before air defenses can be shut down. This capability is apparently what attracted the South Koreans, who now have F-15K aircraft that can carry JASSM.

JASSM was designed to handle the most modern Russian surface to air missiles, which are also being sold to China. North Korea has older stuff, and can't afford the newer Russian SAMs. But even these older air defenses can be dangerous, and are best addressed with long range missiles. There is a need for a missile like JASSM, at least one that works and that is one reason why methods were developed to carry and launch them from C-130 transports. This allows for airstrikes quickly, even when there are not jet fighter-bombers available to do the job. The test of this concept was carried out in a MC-130J, a special operations aircraft, but any C-130 will do.

This is not the first time C-130s and other air transports have been used to deliver bombs or launch missiles. During the Vietnam War the air force developed a 6.2 ton fuel-air explosive to create helicopter landing areas in forests. This bomb was later used to attack the enemy, and was even dropped from heavy-lift helicopters. In the 21st century a 9.8 ton high-explosive bomb was developed for delivery by C-130s. The Americans tested launching a Minuteman ICBM from a cargo aircraft. It worked, but never became a regular option for launching ICBM, which are launched from land-based silos. Israel developed some SRBM (Short Range Ballistic Missiles) to be dropped and launched from air transports to provide realistic targets for the Israeli Arrow BMD (Ballistic Missile Defense) system. The use of C-130s to carry and launch JASSM is intended to become a standard option.

The C-130 Hercules has been in service since 1956, with over 3,000 built and many fly for over 30 years. The main version of the C-130 in service is the C-130H. It has a range of 8,368 kilometers, a top speed of 601 kilometers per hour, and can carry up to 18 tons of cargo, 92 troops, or 64 paratroopers. The latest version, the C-130J, has a top speed of 644 kilometers, 40 percent more range than the C-130H, and can carry 20 tons of cargo. The C-130 has been exported to over 50 countries.




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