Raytheon Restarts Production of Laser Maverick Missiles [AGM-65]
Raytheon is restarting its production line to produce AGM-65E2/L laser-guided Maverick missiles, and will also upgrade existing stocks, in response to demand from the front lines. The AGM-65 rose to its greatest prominence during Desert Storm, when many of TV’s missile-eye views of air strikes came from Mavericks. In truth, it was produced in 3 versions: TV-guided, Imaging Infrared (IIR) guided, and laser-guided. Production continues for the TV and IIR variants, but the Marines’ AGM-65E laser-guided version had gone out of production.
The AGM-65 Maverick was the first general purpose fire-and-forget tactical air-to-ground missile in service with the U.S. Air Force. The JAGM program proposes to replace it, but until then, Maverick remains the default option for jet fighter precision-guided missile strikes. While IIR and TV guidance allow precision attacks, laser guidance generally offers the best accuracy of the 3 against ground targets. Likewise, there are circumstances in which a fully-powered missile is a better choice than an unpowered gliding bomb. The following story from Iraq illustrates:
Why Laser Mavericks are Still Needed
“The clock tower in this photo [see above] is located above a crowded marketplace. A sniper was in the tower, and was shooting at people (I don’t know whether he was shooting at civilians or GIs). Someone on the ground called for air support, and a USMC Harrier, carrying the LG Mav arrived on the scene. As you can see from the photo, the LG Mav did a first class job of precisely taking out the sniper’s nest while leaving the surrounding structure intact and keeping collateral damage to a minimum.”
A glide bomb’s unpowered vertical path would not have been very suitable for that operation.
Imaging Infrared guidance works very well against some kinds of targets. It is not an obvious fit in this situation. Targets of this kind, when this level of precision is required, and where heat sources may be hard to distinguish, are not IIR’s forte. Especially when the ability of troops on the ground to pinpoint the exact part of the building involved, in real time, is a priority.
TV guidance could be precise enough to hit a specific part of the building, but its precision level is inferior to laser guidance, and it also lacks the easy adaptability and fire-and-forget qualities of a laser-guided missile.
A smaller laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire missile might have worked, but they’re not designed to be fired from fast-moving platforms like jets. That means more waiting time unless an attack helicopter or UAV is already on site – a luxury that may not be present in time-critical situations. The Hellfire missile’s high-explosive warhead may also be too small for some situations, and its AGM-114N thermobaric warhead variant is only used if a building’s collapse is an acceptable outcome.
These kinds of dilemmas are not uncommon in the USA’s current conflicts, and the ease with which laser-guided missiles can work with designators from other aircraft, troops, or UAVs sharply multiplies their effectiveness. If the USA’s fast jets want to be involved in the kinds of close support missions that make up most of the fire requests in its current wars, they need a laser guided option.
Raytheon is the prime contractor, but as is generally the case, they have a number of important sub-contractors. Major suppliers include:
- Alliant Tech Systems in Rocket Center, WVA (rocket motor)
- Analog Modules, Inc. in Longwood, FL
- BAE Systems in Lexington, MA
- Eagle Picher in Joplin, MO
- ELCAN Optical Technologies in Midland, Ontario, Canada
- Ensign Bickford in Simsbury, CT
- Kaman Aerospace in Middletown, CT
- MOOG, Inc. in Salt Lake City, UT and East Aurora, NY
- Primus Technologies in Williamsport, PA
- Reynolds Systems in Middletown, CA
- Woven Electronics in Greenville, SC
Contracts and Key Events
Jan 24/12: Raytheon announces that the US Navy has completed developmental and operational testing of the AGM-65E2 laser-guided Maverick missile. The Navy fired 4 missiles at moving and stationary targets from F/A-18C/D Hornets, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, and AV-8B Harriers, including 1 shot from a Harrier that hit a moving target, using laser designation from an AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter.
The end of testing clears the way for delivery and use of the missiles.
Dec 19/11: Raytheon Missile Systems in Tuscon, AZ receives a $15 million firm-fixed-price contract for laser maverick missile production. Work is expected to be complete by Sept 30/13 (end of FY 2013). This was a sole-source acquisition, with 1 proposal received by the OO-ALC/GHGKA at Hill Air Force Base, UT (FA8213-09-D-0008, #0004).
Feb 9/11: Raytheon announces a successful series of initial AGM-65E2/L captive carry flight tests, from A-10C, F-16, and F/A-18 aircraft, in Q4 2010. During the tests, the Maverick’s laser seeker locked on to a variety of stationary and moving targets from up to 28 km/ 18 miles away.
May 10/10: Raytheon announces a $34.4 million to continue design work on the newest AGM-65E2 (USN/USMC) and AGM-65L (USAF) laser-guided Maverick missile variants. Under this contract, Raytheon will develop, integrate and test the new guidance and control sections, which will add enhanced laser seekers and new software, in order to improve both accuracy and integration with modern targeting pod laser designators. Harry Schulte, vice president of Raytheon Missile System’s Air Warfare Systems product line, adds that:
“…we hope to have the newest addition to the Maverick family available for export soon.”
April 2/09: Raytheon announces a U.S. Air Force contract to restart the laser-guided Maverick production line, and add state-of-the-art laser-seeker technology to existing missiles. The contract will result in the upgrade of up to 450 laser Maverick guidance sections for the USAF and U.S. Navy.
Raytheon plans to deliver the first upgraded guidance sections to the U.S. Air Force in 20 – 24 months, under a contract that uses funds from a General Services Administration (GSA) exchange program, without affecting normal weapon procurement budgets.
March 20/09: The Air Force is awarding an undefinitized firm-fixed-price contract to Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, AZ for an amount not to exceed $23 million. This action provides for production quantities of 70 laser-guided Maverick Missiles, and 1 Guidance and Control Section for a Maverick Missile. At this time, $17.25 million has been obligated by the OO-ALC/LHKC at Hill Air Force Base, UT (FA8217-09-C-0046)
Additional Reading and Sources
- US Air Force – AGM-65 MAVERICK
- US Navy – AGM-65 Maverick Guided Missile
- Wikipedia – AGM-65 Maverick
- Federation of American Scientists – AGM-65 Maverick
- Flightglobal – USAF orders production revival for upgraded Maverick missile
- Deagel.com – AGM-65 Maverick
- The Ordnance Shop – Maverick Missile
- Scramble – Raytheon (Hughes) AGM-65 Maverick
- Designation Systems
- DID – APKWS II: Laser-Guided Hydra Rockets in Production At Last. And a fast jet variant is in the works, creating a lower-end competitor/ complementor.