U.S. Air Force Secures Joint Strike Missile Contract for F-35A Fighters

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The U.S. Air Force has made a significant move by signing its first contract for Joint Strike Missile (JSM) cruise missiles, a cutting-edge addition designed to enhance the service’s operational capabilities. The Norwegian-made missiles, produced by Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace, are intended to provide the Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II fighters with an interim stand-off anti-ship capability. This capability is crucial until the F-35As can be equipped with the larger AGM-158C Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). The JSM also offers the versatility to engage land targets, fitting within the F-35A’s internal weapon bays to maintain the aircraft’s stealth profile.

Contract Details and Financials

On the date of the contract announcement, the Pentagon revealed that the U.S. Air Force has awarded Kongsberg Defence a contract valued at $141 million for the JSM production Lot 1. This contract, a firm-fixed-price deal, includes all necessary rounds, containers, and test equipment for the Joint Strike Missile. The work is slated to be completed by August 31, 2026, with the contract issued by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. ( https://www.defense.gov/News/Contracts/Contract/Article/3793219/)

Contract Breakdown

  • Contract Value: $141,000,000
  • Duration: Until August 31, 2026
  • Awarding Body: Air Force Life Cycle Management Center
  • Work Location: Kongsberg, Norway
  • Funding: $69,212,397 from Fiscal 2024 (USAF) procurement missile funding

The exact number of missiles to be delivered under this contract remains unspecified. However, historical data from the Air Force indicates plans to purchase 48 JSMs in Lot 1, with potential acquisitions reaching up to 268 missiles.

Technical Specifications and Capabilities

Missile Design and Range

The JSM is an air-launched variant of the Naval Strike Missile (NSM), which has been gaining traction within the U.S. military. Developed collaboratively by Kongsberg and Raytheon, the JSM boasts a maximum range of approximately 350 miles, although this range is halved when the missile operates in low-altitude penetration mode. Its 260-pound warhead, combined with sophisticated navigation systems such as GPS, INS, and terrain mapping, ensures accurate targeting even in GPS-denied environments—a critical feature highlighted by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Guidance and Targeting

Equipped with an imaging infrared seeker, the JSM provides precise terminal phase targeting. The seeker operates passively, rendering it immune to radiofrequency jamming and detection. Additionally, a two-way datalink allows for mid-course targeting updates or complete re-tasking, enhancing the missile’s flexibility in dynamic combat scenarios.

Compatibility with F-35 Variants

One of the JSM’s significant advantages is its compatibility with the internal weapon bays of the F-35A and F-35C variants. This internal carriage maintains the stealth characteristics essential for these fifth-generation fighters. While the F-35B variant, operated by the U.S. Marine Corps, has smaller internal bays that cannot accommodate the JSM, external carriage options are available for several aircraft, including the F-16 Viper, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and F-15E Strike Eagle. However, external carriage on the F-35 variants compromises their stealth profile.

Development and Integration Efforts

The Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) has played a pivotal role in the JSM’s development and integration onto the F-35A, with the U.S. Air Force supporting these efforts. This collaboration has accelerated the missile’s deployment timeline, leveraging the RNoAF’s test and integration activities.

Image: The JSM anti-ship missile is installed in the internal compartment of the F-35A fighter jet. Photo credits: Kongsberg

Image : The mock-up of the JSM anti-ship missile is installed on the F-35A fighter. Photo credits: Kongsberg

Strategic Implications and Future Prospects

Operational Advantages

For the Air Force, the immediate benefit of the JSM lies in its readiness and integration onto the F-35A. The missile offers a vital stand-off strike capability, especially in maritime operations, bridging the gap until the LRASM can be integrated. Unlike the larger LRASM, the JSM can also engage land targets and be carried internally, preserving the F-35’s stealth.

Potential Broader Applications

Beyond the Air Force, the JSM presents an attractive option for other U.S. military branches. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps could utilize the missile on their F-35 and F/A-18E/F fleets. Additionally, the JSM’s relatively small size opens up potential integration with other platforms, including unmanned systems like the MQ-9 Reaper, enhancing the versatility and relevance of these platforms in high-end conflicts.

International Integration and Competition

The U.S. Air Force is somewhat late to the JSM adoption compared to international partners such as Japan, Finland, and Norway, which have already announced plans to arm their F-35As with these missiles. The integration of JSM onto U.S. platforms marks a significant step in maintaining parity with these allies and ensuring the F-35’s operational superiority.

Technological Enhancements

The JSM’s integration onto the F-35A may be influenced by the delayed Block 4 upgrade package for the Joint Strike Fighter, which is critical for adding new weaponry. The Block 4 enhancements are anticipated to include improvements in sensors, computing power, and electronic warfare capabilities, which will further enhance the F-35’s operational effectiveness with the JSM.

The U.S. Air Force’s acquisition of the Joint Strike Missile represents a strategic enhancement of its F-35A capabilities, providing a versatile, stealth-compatible stand-off weapon. This contract underscores the importance of international collaboration in defense technology development and sets the stage for potential broader applications across various U.S. military platforms. As the integration process continues, the JSM is poised to play a pivotal role in future high-end conflicts, ensuring the F-35’s dominance in both maritime and land-based operations.

An In-Depth Analysis of the White House’s 2025 Defense Budget Proposal and Its Implications

The White House has recently submitted a budget request to Congress for defense totaling $850 billion for the fiscal year starting October 1. This budget, though in line with the caps set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act of May 2023, has been criticized for not keeping pace with inflation and failing to meet the long-term readiness or modernization needs of the U.S. military. This article provides a comprehensive analysis of the proposed budget, the legislative process it must undergo, the unfunded priority lists (UPLs), and the broader implications for national security.

Table 1 : Service and Command Breakouts

Service and CommandUPL Dollars (Millions) 2023Percentage of Total 2023UPL Dollars (Millions) 2024Percentage of Total 2024UPL Dollars (Millions) 2025Percentage of Total 2025Change Between 2025 and 2024
INDOPACOM1509,006,903481,0020,60%11041,0038,40%75600,00
Navy4020,0018,302533,8015,00%3694,0012,80%11602,00
Air Force4613,4021,002452,5014,50%3500,4012,20%10478,00
National Guard Bureau463,002,100,000,00%2662,109,30%26621,00
Marine Corps3477,5015,903671,9021,70%2382,008,30%-12900,00
Army5120,7023,401930,4011,40%2220,307,70%2899,00
SPACECOM0,000,000,000,00%1213,904,20%12139,00
Space Force638,102,90477,302,80%1148,704,00%6714,00
CENTCOM35,000,20278,801,70%449,601,60%1708,00
SOUTHCOM267,901,20278,301,60%322,701,10%444,00
USD (R&E)0,000,000,000,00%81,500,30%815,00
NORTHCOM135,000,60376,702,20%34,700,10%-3420,00
SOCOM656,303,00847,305,00%0,000,00%-8473,00
AFRICOM0,000,00397,802,40%0,000,00%-3978,00
EUCOM0,000,00159,500,90%0,000,00%-1595,00
CYBERCOM236,001,100,000,00%0,000,00%0,00
MDA748,003,400,000,00%0,000,00%0,00
Total21919,9016885,3028750,90

The Legislative Process and Congressional Role

Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the responsibility to “raise and support Armies” and provide funding for the military. This process begins with the President’s budget proposal, but it is ultimately Congress that determines the final level of funding. This involves public hearings with key defense leaders, private meetings with experts, and internal deliberations. Additionally, the submission of UPLs by the uniformed military leadership plays a crucial role in shaping the defense budget.

The Unfunded Priority Lists (UPLs)

The UPLs are lists submitted by the military services, defense agencies, and combatant commands to highlight budget shortfalls. These lists are meant to provide Congress with a clear picture of the funding needed to meet various operational and strategic requirements. For the fiscal year 2025, twelve UPLs have been made public, totaling $28.7 billion in noted budget shortfalls. This equates to about 3.4 percent of the $850 billion budget request.

Inflation and Budget Realities

Given the current inflation rate of approximately 3.2 percent and a 4.5 percent pay raise for military personnel, the proposed 1 percent topline increase in the budget request falls short of addressing real growth needs. Combining this with the additional 3.4 percent in funding requested through the UPLs, the Pentagon would achieve a roughly zero real growth rate. Considering the ongoing conflicts and potential for future engagements, it is likely that a 2025 Emergency Supplemental budget may also be necessary.

INDOPACOM’s Dominance in the UPLs

One of the most striking aspects of the 2025 UPLs is the dominance of the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), which has requested $11 billion—38 percent of the entire UPL request. This significant increase from previous years underscores the Pentagon’s focus on China and the Pacific as the primary strategic challenge. The INDOPACOM request includes substantial funding for military construction (MILCON), procurement of weapons, and research, development, test, and evaluation (RDTE), highlighting the command’s comprehensive approach to addressing regional threats.

INDOPACOM
Clandestine Delivered Mines (CDM) (USN)$72.6
Guam Defense System$0.8
Hammerhead Mines (USN)$359.5
Joint Strike Missile (JSM) (USAF)$298.4
Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) (USN, USAF)$105.1
Maritime Strike TLAM (MST) (US Army)$318.5
Maritime Strike TLAM (MST) (USMC)$25.8
Maritime Strike TLAM (MST) (USN)$189.5
Mission Network$17.5
Pacific Multi-Domain Training and Experimentation Capability (PMTEC)$24.3
Persistent Targeting for Undersea$23.0
Powered Quickstrike (QS-P) USN Mines$50.0
Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) Inc 2 & Inc 4 (USA)$143.5
Resilient TS-SCI Warfighting Architecture$58.3
Robust Resilient Mission Platform (R2MP)$176.7
Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) Block IB Variant (USN)$766.9
Subtotal$2,630.4
Marine Corps
Air Operations C2 / Composite Tracking Network (CTN)$11.7
Amphibious Combat Vehicle-30 (ACV-30)$340.9
CH-53K Aircraft, Procure Two More$250.0
Common Aviation Command and Control System (CAC2S) Technical$15.7
Enhanced Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (E-CRRC)$9.7
F-35C Engine Spares & Modules Procure Four More$95.0
KC-130J Weapons System Trainer Procure One More$37.1
LRASM C3 (AGM-158C-3)$90.4
Medical Equipment Modernization$12.0
Operational Command Post (OCP)$17.0
Osprey Drive System Safety and Health (ODSSHI)$90.0
Reducible Height Gunner Protection Kit (RHGPK)$7.2
SATCOM Rebroadcast / DCGS-MC GEOINT$6.7
SATCOM Terminal and Antenna Network-on-the-Move (NOTM)$27.5
Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB II)$16.0
Terrestial Collections Systems$7.5
Viper Phones/COMSEC$17.3
Subtotal$1,051.7
Navy
Accelerate Mk-48 Heavy Weight Torpedo (HWT) Procurement (+4)$50.0
Fund Aviation Critical Planeside Systems$208.0
KC-130J Procurement (Adds +1)$125.0
Submarine Industrial Base (Delta SIB Supplemental to PB-25)$403.0
Surface Warfare Priority Systems$200.0
Subtotal$986.0
National Guard Bureau
C-130J Diminished Manufacturing Supply and Required Support Equipment$349.0
F-15EX Conformal Tanks$288.0
Procure 6 x F-15 EX Aircraft$690.0
Procure 6 x F-35 Aircraft$660.0
Subtotal$1,987.0
Space Force
Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP)$59.8
Uniterruptible Power Supply (UPS) Resiliency$9.4
Subtotal$69.2

Organizational Shortfalls

Following INDOPACOM, the Air Force and Navy hold the second and third spots in terms of budget shortfalls, with the Marine Corps and National Guard also showing notable requests. Interestingly, the Army’s request is lower than expected, despite its significant role in supporting priorities in Europe and the Middle East. The National Guard Bureau (NGB) has also requested significant funding for aircraft procurement, reflecting its dual state and federal responsibilities.

Investment Versus Readiness

The 2025 UPLs, like those in previous years, prioritize investments in MILCON, procurement, and RDTE appropriations, which together account for about 80 percent of the request. This trend indicates that the Department of Defense is trying to meet current readiness needs at the expense of future capabilities. The strategic bet here is that Congress will address these shortfalls, funding projects and weapons tied to specific states and districts more readily than general readiness accounts.

Detailed Analysis of Procurement, RDTE, and Military Construction

The shift in the UPLs from procurement to military construction and RDTE is notable. In 2023, procurement made up 53 percent of the UPL lists, but in 2025, this is down to 30 percent, with INDOPACOM and NGB accounting for the majority of the requests. This reduction reflects the prioritization of near-term readiness over long-term procurement needs, a trend that could have long-term implications for the U.S. defense industrial base.

Procurement Shortfalls

The procurement shortfalls highlight several critical needs. INDOPACOM’s largest request is for $766 million for the latest Navy Standard Missile variant, while the NGB’s request for additional F-15EX and F-35 aircraft takes the second and third spots. The Air Force’s request for “fighter force re-optimization” and the Navy’s submarine industrial base gap are also significant, totaling $3 billion of the overall procurement shortfall.

RDTE Needs

The RDTE shortfalls are dominated by INDOPACOM and Space-related commands, accounting for 83 percent of the gaps. These include numerous classified programs, efforts to enhance find, fix, track, and target capabilities, and the acceleration of unmanned underwater vehicles and the Guam defense system. These investments are crucial for maintaining strategic deterrence and technological superiority, particularly in the Pacific and space domains.

Military Construction Focus

The military construction requests for 2025 are significantly higher than in previous years, with INDOPACOM alone requesting $3.5 billion more than last year. These funds are aimed at enhancing infrastructure in key strategic locations such as Guam, Palau, Micronesia, and Hawaii. The Navy also has substantial requests for dry dock replacements, hangar replacements, and water treatment facilities, reflecting the need for robust support infrastructure for forward-deployed forces.

Near-Term Readiness and Operational Gaps

In the readiness category, the Air Force has the largest total request, primarily for spares to enhance aircraft readiness. INDOPACOM’s request for “campaigning” funds highlights the underfunded day-to-day operations and logistics support in the Pacific. These gaps underscore the ongoing challenges in maintaining operational readiness amidst budget constraints.

Broader Implications and Strategic Considerations

The 2025 defense budget request and the accompanying UPLs highlight several critical issues for U.S. national security. The insufficient budget request fails to address both near-term readiness needs and long-term strategic investments. Congress is likely to mitigate some of these shortfalls through funding elements of the UPL lists, but the broader issues of budget instability and strategic misalignment remain. The dominance of INDOPACOM in the UPLs reflects the shifting focus towards the Pacific and the need for enhanced capabilities to counter China’s growing influence.

The 2025 defense budget proposal and the associated UPLs paint a complex picture of the current and future needs of the U.S. military. While the budget process is ongoing, it is clear that significant funding gaps remain, particularly in areas crucial for strategic deterrence and operational readiness. As Congress deliberates on the budget, it is imperative to address these shortfalls to ensure the U.S. military remains capable and ready to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex global security environment.


APPENDIX 1 – NSM-JSM Missiles: Precision Strike Against Sea and Land Targets

The evolution of modern missile technology has seen significant strides in enhancing precision strike capabilities, survivability, and versatility. Among the leaders in this field are the Naval Strike Missile (NSM) and its variant, the Joint Strike Missile (JSM). These advanced systems, developed with decades of missile experience, are designed to meet the complex demands of contemporary warfare, providing superior operational performance against both sea and land targets. This detailed analysis will explore the capabilities, operational features, and deployment status of these missiles, highlighting their strategic importance in modern defense systems.

NSM: Naval Strike Missile

The NSM is a highly sophisticated missile system designed to provide a robust strike capability against a wide range of targets. Its development is rooted in the need for a versatile, high-survivability missile capable of penetrating advanced enemy defenses. The NSM achieves this through a combination of advanced features and design principles.

Key Operational Features of NSM

  • Strike Capability Against Sea and Land Targets: The NSM is designed to engage both naval and land-based targets with high precision. This dual capability makes it a versatile asset for various military operations.
  • Excellent Penetration Capability: The missile’s ability to penetrate advanced air defense systems is a critical feature. This is achieved through its extreme maneuverability and advanced guidance systems.
  • Ship Class Identification through Autonomous Target Recognition (ATR): The NSM utilizes ATR to identify and engage specific ship classes autonomously. This capability enhances its effectiveness in complex battle environments where distinguishing between different types of targets is crucial.

Performance and Testing

The NSM has undergone rigorous testing to validate its performance across various scenarios:

  • Missile Approach from Over Land Against Targets Close to Shoreline: Demonstrates its ability to navigate and strike targets located near the coast, a common scenario in littoral combat zones.
  • Attack from the Sea with Target Close to Shoreline: Validates its sea-to-land strike capability.
  • Precision Land Attack: Ensures its effectiveness in hitting precise land-based targets.
  • Autonomous Target Recognition (ATR): Confirms its ability to autonomously identify and engage specific targets.
  • Extreme Maneuverability: Proves its capability to evade enemy defenses and ensure a high probability of mission success.

Current Deployment and Adoption

The NSM has been adopted by several navies and armed forces worldwide, reflecting its reliability and effectiveness:

  • Royal Norwegian Navy: Main weapon for their frigates and coastal corvettes.
  • US Navy and US Marine Corps: Selected for its advanced capabilities and interoperability.
  • Poland, Romania, Canada, Germany, Australia, and Malaysia: Chosen for its stealth features and autonomous targeting.

Survivability Features

The NSM is designed to survive in modern contested environments, characterized by advanced air defense systems:

  • Passive Sensors: Reduce the likelihood of detection.
  • Very Low Signature: Minimizes radar detection.
  • Extremely Low Sea Skimming Altitude: Helps avoid radar detection by flying just above the water surface.
  • Terrain Following Flight: Enhances evasion by following the natural terrain.
  • High Agility with Selectable End-Game Flight Profiles: Allows for last-moment evasive maneuvers.
  • Precise Designated Time-on-Target: Ensures synchronized strikes with other military assets.

High-Resolution Imaging and Precision Targeting

The NSM’s high-resolution imaging infrared seeker provides ATR and precise hit points for each ship class. The missile’s thrust-to-weight ratio above 1 and high-G programmable endgame maneuvers contribute to its unmatched defense penetration capabilities.

Missile Characteristics

  • Speed: High Subsonic
  • Weight: 407 kg (897 lbs)
  • Length: 3.96 m (156 in)
  • Range: Over 185 km (100 nautical miles)

Concept and Evolution of NSM and JSM

The NSM and its air-launched variant, the JSM, represent a significant leap in missile technology. The JSM, developed from the NSM’s technology, is tailored for air platforms, providing extended range and enhanced capabilities for precision strikes.

Low Radar Cross Section (RCS): Both missiles feature a low RCS design, making them less detectable by enemy radar systems.

Sea Skimming/Super Sea Skimming: These flight profiles enable the missiles to fly close to the sea surface, reducing the chance of radar detection and improving survivability.

High-G End Game Maneuvers: These maneuvers allow the missiles to perform sharp evasive actions during the terminal phase of flight, making them difficult targets for enemy defense systems.

Autonomous Target Recognition (ATR): Ensures that the missiles can independently identify and engage targets, reducing the need for continuous guidance from launch platforms.

Survivability in Denied Environments: Designed to operate in environments with extensive enemy defenses, including electronic warfare measures and advanced air defense systems.

JSM: Joint Strike Missile

The JSM builds on the proven technology of the NSM, optimized for use by the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) and other allied air forces. Its design and operational analysis focus on enhancing key capabilities required for modern air-to-surface missile systems.

Key Operational Capabilities of JSM

Survivability

    • Passive Sensors: Enhance stealth by reducing the missile’s electromagnetic footprint.
    • Extremely Low Sea Skimming Altitude: Increases survivability by minimizing exposure to radar detection.
    • Terrain Following Flight: Allows the missile to navigate complex terrains effectively.
    • High Agility with Selectable End-Game Flight Profiles: Ensures the missile can perform evasive maneuvers during the terminal phase.
    • Very Precise Designated Time-on-Target: Synchronizes with other assets for coordinated strikes.

    Lethality

      • Precise Aimpoint: Ensures high accuracy in striking targets.
      • Warhead Effect: Optimized for maximum damage against various target types.
      • Collateral Damage Mitigation: Designed to minimize unintended damage to surrounding areas.

      Target Selectivity

        • Target Detection and Identification: Utilizes advanced sensors for accurate target identification.
        • Autonomous Target Recognition (ATR): Enhances operational independence.
        • Target Discrimination in Cluttered Environments: Capable of distinguishing between targets in complex settings.
        • Rules of Engagement (ROE) Compatibility: Ensures compliance with operational rules and restrictions.

        Missile Characteristics

        • Speed: High Subsonic
        • Weight: 416 kg (917 lbs)
        • Length: 4.00 m (156 in)
        • Range: Over 275 km (150 nautical miles)

        Strategic Implications and Future Prospects

        The deployment of NSM and JSM missiles significantly enhances the strike capabilities of the armed forces that operate them. Their advanced features, such as low RCS, sea skimming, high-G maneuvers, and ATR, provide a formidable edge in modern warfare, ensuring high survivability and precision in contested environments.

        Global Market and Adoption

        The global adoption of NSM and JSM missiles by various navies and air forces underscores their reliability and effectiveness. The widespread integration of these systems highlights their importance in contemporary military strategy, offering a potent combination of survivability, precision, and versatility.

        Technological Evolution and Continuous Improvement

        As threats evolve, so too must the technology designed to counter them. The ongoing development and refinement of NSM and JSM missiles ensure they remain at the cutting edge of missile technology. Future enhancements may include further improvements in stealth, guidance systems, and target recognition capabilities, maintaining their relevance and superiority in modern defense arsenals.

        Operational Deployment and Integration

        The integration of NSM and JSM missiles into existing military platforms requires careful planning and coordination. The successful deployment of these systems by navies and air forces worldwide demonstrates the feasibility and strategic advantage of incorporating advanced missile technology into diverse military operations.

        Impact on Defense Strategy

        The advanced capabilities of NSM and JSM missiles influence defense strategies at both tactical and strategic levels. Their precision strike capabilities enable more effective engagement of high-value targets, while their survivability features reduce the risk of interception, enhancing the overall effectiveness of military operations.

        The Naval Strike Missile (NSM) and Joint Strike Missile (JSM) represent the pinnacle of modern missile technology, offering unparalleled precision, survivability, and versatility. Their adoption by numerous armed forces worldwide is a testament to their effectiveness and reliability. As technology continues to advance, the NSM and JSM will remain critical components of contemporary and future military strategies, ensuring their operators maintain a decisive edge in both sea and land combat scenarios. The continuous evolution and improvement of these systems will further solidify their position as indispensable assets in the arsenal of modern defense forces.


        REFERENCE


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