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 (AGM-65A/B/D/H), Imaging Infrared (AGM-65G) guided, and laser-guided (AGM-65E). 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 initially proposed to replace it, but program changes ensured that Maverick remains the default American option for jet fighter precision-guided missile strikes out to around 20+ km / 12 nmi. 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. The same issues are present if one replaces Lockheed Martin’s UAV/helicopter fired Hellfire with MBDA’s Brimstone missile, which is designed to be fired from fast jets.
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
Unless otherwise noted, all contracts are issued to Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ.
August 20/19: 469 Units The US Air Force awarded Raytheon Missile Systems a $47.9 million contract for 469 Maverick units. According to the company, the Maverick is a precision-attack missile for the air, naval and marine forces of 30 countries. Maverick is certified for use on more than 25 aircraft, including helicopters, fighters, attack and patrol aircraft. More than 69,000 missiles have been produced to date, and more than 6,000 have been used in combat, with 93 percent accuracy. The missile’s guidance software provides attack capability around-the-clock against fixed high-value targets, high-speed moving and maneuvering armored vehicles, ships and fast boats, and targets of opportunity. Targets of opportunity provide all-altitude point-and-shoot flexibility ideally suited for time-critical strike in urban close air support and maritime operations. Raytheon will perform work in Tucson, Arizona. Estimated completion date is September 30, 2021.
Sept 3/14: Modifications. A $49.5 million firm-fixed-price contract to modify 500 AGM-65A/B guidance control sections to an AGM-65E2 configuration. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 US Navy weapon budgets. In early November, the Marine Aviation Plan 2015 explains:
“To address the operational need for a TACAIR forward-firing missile, 500 legacy AGM-65F Infrared (IR) Mavericks will be purchased from the USAF and converted into modernized AGM-65E2 Laser Mavericks. These conversions will nearly double the current inventory of Laser Mavericks. The AGM-65E2 seeker provides F/A-18F and AV-8B with increased self-designation capability, greater chance of laser spot re-acquisition if lost due to obscurants, and a more accurate laser spot scan than the AGM-65E seeker.”
Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ (53%); Williamsport, PA (31%); Orlando, FL (8%); Ontario, Canada (4%); Joplin, MO (3%); and Grass Valley, CA (1%), and is expected to be complete in January 2017. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 by US Navy NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-14-C-0071).
500 swap-in sections
Jan 24/12: Testing. 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: Testing. 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.”
R&D for AGM-65E2
Dec 22/09: Other Mavericks. A $171.2 million contract to provide 200 AGM-65D imaging infrared Maverick missiles, 4 AGM-65D guidance and control sections, 300 AGM-65G imaging infrared Maverick missiles optimized for hardened targets, and 8 AGM-65G guidance and control sections. All funds have been committed, and this contract is managed by the 784th CBSG/PK at Hill AFB, UT (FA8213-10-C-0022).
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.
Production line restarted, Swap-out 65E contract
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).
Urgent production: 70
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
* Designation Systems – Raytheon (Hughes) AGM-65 Maverick/a>.
* 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.
* MBDA – Dual Mode Brimstone Missile. Can use either millimeter-wave radar (MMW) or semi-active laser (SAL) guidance, and is designed to work from fast jets in a 3-per-hardpoint configuration.