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Opinion

Cutting missile program won't save money. It will cost US – in lives and treasure.

America’s enemies, having failed to counter US missile capabilities abroad, may now have an opportunity to see them defeated on American soil. Pentagon budget cuts threaten the new Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM) program, which can save funds and lives.

By Steve Russell / November 17, 2011



Oklahoma City

Many of the most devastating attacks on America’s terrorist enemies have been with the use of long-range and remotely fired weapons systems in tandem with the special operations community. Think of the killing of Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay Hussein and key Al Qaeda leaders like Anwar al-Awlaki and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Every branch of America's armed services has used missiles to score remarkable victories against those who would harm the United States.

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Yet America’s enemies, having failed to counter these missile capabilities abroad, may now have an opportunity to see them defeated on American soil. As the Pentagon scrambles to meet increasingly austere political budget targets, missile systems are under severe attack, in particular the new Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM) program. While some short-term savings from the proposed cuts may assuage temporary budgetary needs, canceling the JAGM program will have major long-term costs, both in terms of dollars and lives needlessly lost.

America is on the verge of major breakthroughs in technology, military cooperation, and savings with the JAGM program. But under political pressure, the Army and Navy have been forced to consider abandoning JAGM. As Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley said recently, “It’s safe to say that every single line of the budget is under scrutiny.”

This state-of-the-art air-launched missile would replace three older ones – the Hellfire, Maverick, and Air-Launched TOW – that are nearing the end of their service lives. As the name suggests, the Joint Air to Ground missile would eventually be used by all of the services, can be launched from both fixed and rotary wing aircraft, and can hit moving targets in all weather conditions – something the existing stockpile can’t do.

Killing the JAGM program would be a huge mistake. First, the Pentagon will save no money in the long run. Replacing three missiles with one simplifies logistics and reduces inventory and training costs. All the branches of the military could have one configuration that will do more tactically than the dozens of variants of missiles currently fielded. The JAGM also uses fewer parts than the legacy missile systems and can launch from both fixed wing and rotary aircraft.

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