Boeing says Israel eyes new U.S. bomb kit
By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Israel is seeking to buy a new Boeing Co laser kit to boost the accuracy of bombs against moving targets, and a deal is in the works, a company executive said Tuesday.
The new system builds on the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), a bolt-on used by the United States, Israel and 20 other countries to turn free-fall bombs into near-precision guided "smart" weapons.
Israel has not yet signed a Laser JDAM contract "but we are working toward that and expect that," Dan Jaspering, head of the Boeing unit that builds the weapon, told reporters.
The Israeli embassy in Washington had no immediate comment.
Germany was the first foreign country to buy the new hardware, which is in production for the U.S. Navy and Air Force and which made its combat debut in Iraq in August, he said.
The Laser JDAM was showcased by Boeing ahead of the U.S. Air Force Association's annual air warfare conference taking place in Orlando, Florida, next Thursday and Friday.
As part of the presentation, the company screened a U.S. military video clip of a moving vehicle being knocked out by what Jaspering said was the debut Laser JDAM in Iraq.
The images showed a direct hit.
So far, Boeing has delivered more than 212,000 JDAMS. They sell for roughly $30,000 apiece, Jaspering told Reuters after the presentation.
Tim Deaton, a spokesman for Boeing's St. Louis-based Global Strike Systems business unit, said the company was not disclosing the price of the Laser JDAM. He said Germany bought its initial batch in June 2008 as part of a direct commercial sale, not a government-to-government deal.
On another weapon, Boeing, the Pentagon's No. 2 supplier by sales after Lockheed Martin Corp, said it was looking into possible U.S. homeland security and other applications of the Airborne Laser, or ABL.
The system, aboard a modified 747 airliner, is being developed to zap ballistic missiles shortly after they boost off a launch pad. It in danger of losing funding as part of belt-tightening in the fiscal 2010 defense budget, Riki Ellison, head of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, told Reuters on Friday, citing lawmakers and officials involved in the matter.
Using its own internal research and development funds, Boeing has begun to look at how the ABL could be used in air-to-air attack roles and shooting down cruise missiles in flight, said Patrick Garvey, the project's director of business development.
The ABL is due for a test shot at a ballistic missile in the second half of this year. Boeing will have received $5 billion to develop the system in partnership with Lockheed Martin, which provides the beam control and fire control, and Northrop Grumman Corp, which provides the high-energy chemical laser.
Boeing said it was also using an unspecified sum of its own for items that must be bought far in advance for 15 C-17 military cargo aircraft beyond the 205 that are already delivered or on contract.
The goal was to protect the U.S. Air Force's "option for cost-effective C-17 production in the future," said Jean Chamberlin, vice president and general manager of Boeing's Global Mobility Systems business unit.
"Without funding for procurement of additional C-17s in fiscal 2009, the C-17 supplier base will begin to shut down this year and production will end in 2010," she said.
Boeing voiced confidence it would win a renewed contest to build the Air Force's next combat search and rescue helicopter, or CSAR-X, a potential $13 billion-plus program. Boeing's HH-47 won the initial competition in November 2006.
The Government Accountability Office sustained two protests by CSAR-X competitors Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky, a unit of United Technologies, against the Air Force's original award to Boeing, saying the service failed to consider certain "life-cycle" costs in its decision.
Bob Ford, a program executive in Boeing's Washington D.C. office, said the company had reduced the projected life-cycle costs and made other improvements in the meantime.
"I will tell you that we will score better this time than we did last time, much better," he said. "We know we're going to win because we've got a proven performer." (Reporting by Jim Wolf; editing by Tim Dobbyn)