Let’s Delve Into The Details Of The AGM-65 Maverick

Embarking on a journey of technological prowess, Let’s Delve Into The Details Of The AGM-65 Maverick missile, a cutting-edge weapon specifically designed for precise ground targets. It serves as a worthy successor to the renowned Bullpup missile. This remarkable missile holds the distinction of being the most extensively produced precision-guided munition in the Western world. Its unparalleled effectiveness extends to a wide array of tactical objectives, including armoured units, air defences, naval vessels, ground transportation, and fuel storage facilities.

The AGM-65 Maverick originated in 1966 at Hughes Aircraft Company, marking a groundbreaking milestone as the first missile to employ electronic contrast seeker technology. Subsequently, Raytheon assumed responsibility for its production, maintaining its status as the leading manufacturer of this exceptional munition.

Generally, when we hear the name “Maverick”, our first association is often the character from the blockbuster movie “Top Gun,” the daring fighter pilot portrayed by Tom Cruise. However, in this article, we are not discussing the movie; instead, we explore the formidable Air-to-Ground (AGM) missile system that shares a similar name. The AGM-65 Maverick was introduced by the United States Air Force in August 1972 and has since been exported to more than 30 countries. It has also received certification for use on 25 different aircraft.

It is important to note that the AGM-65 Maverick’s design bears a striking resemblance of around 90% to the AIM-4 Falcon and AIM-54 Phoenix missiles, although these missiles were intended for air-to-air engagements and are no longer in service in the United States. Currently, the Maverick has demonstrated its effectiveness in various conflicts, such as the Vietnam War, Yom Kippur War, Iran-Iraq War, Persian Gulf War, and numerous other engagements, successfully neutralizing enemy forces and installations to varying degrees of success.

Let’s Delve Into The Details Of The AGM-65 Maverick

Analyzing The Design Of AGM-65 Maverick

Shape and Configuration: The Maverick features a modular design, which enables the attachment of different combinations of the guidance package and warhead to the rocket motor, resulting in various weapon configurations. Its long-chord delta wings and cylindrical body, with a glass nose cone for enhanced seeker performance, contribute to its aerodynamic design. The missile adopts a mid-mounted wing configuration that ensures stability and lift during flight. Additionally, it incorporates four tail control surfaces arranged in an “X” configuration, facilitating manoeuvrability and precise target guidance.

Guidance System: The AGM-65 Maverick has undergone numerous upgrades, resulting in different variants equipped with diverse guidance systems. The original Maverick (AGM-65A) utilized electro-optical (TV) guidance, where the missile operator would visually track the target through a TV camera and manually guide the missile. Subsequent variants incorporated infrared (IR) imaging for enhanced performance against heat-emitting targets. Various models of the AGM-65 have employed electro-optical, laser, and imaging infrared guidance systems.

Warhead: The AGM-65 Maverick boasts a formidable high-explosive warhead, engineered for piercing armoured targets and demolishing structures with exceptional power. The warhead weight varies across different variants, typically ranging from 200 kilograms to 300 kilograms, ensuring devastating impact. The AGM-65 incorporates two distinct warhead types: one featuring a contact fuze in the nose, and another equipped with a heavyweight warhead armed with a delayed-action fuze, strategically designed to penetrate the target before detonation. The latter configuration proves particularly potent when confronting sizable, hardened targets. Both warhead types derive propulsion from a solid-fuel rocket motor situated behind the warhead, propelling the missile with formidable force.

Targeting Capabilities: The AGM-65 Maverick, in its different variants, has been meticulously engineered to engage a wide range of targets, including armoured vehicles, ships, and structures. The missile’s versatility is enhanced by its ability to be equipped with various seeker heads, such as laser guidance or imaging infrared, tailored to meet the specific demands of each mission. While the Maverick lacks independent target acquisition capabilities, it relies on input from the pilot or weapon systems officer. Once guided, it autonomously tracks its designated path towards the target.

For instance, in an A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, the seeker head’s video feed is relayed to a cockpit screen, enabling the pilot to verify the locked target prior to launch. By manipulating a crosshair on the heads-up display, the pilot approximates the target’s location, allowing the missile to effortlessly recognize and lock on to its intended objective. Once launched, the missile operates independently, eliminating the need for further guidance from the launch vehicle as it tracks the target with remarkable precision. This fire-and-forget capability is not present in the E version, which utilizes semi-active laser homing.

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Launch Platforms: The Maverick missile can be launched from a variety of aircraft platforms, including fighter jets like the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18, as well as attack helicopters like the AH-64 Apache. It is typically carried on external hardpoints or weapon stations of these aircraft.

Overall, the AGM-65 Maverick’s design has evolved over time to incorporate advancements in guidance systems and targeting capabilities. Its relatively compact size, versatility, and effectiveness against a range of targets have contributed to its popularity and enduring use in military operations.

Photo Credit:USAF
Photo Credit: USAF

The Concept Behind The Development Of AGM-65 Maverick

The concept behind the development of the AGM-65 Maverick originated when the United States Air Force (USAF) initiated a program to find a successor to the AGM-12 Bullpup. The objective was to design a versatile air-to-ground missile that could deliver precise strikes against a diverse range of targets. The inception of the Maverick can be traced back to the 1960s when the U.S. military identified the necessity for an advanced guided munition to replace existing unguided bombs and rockets.

The USAF embarked on a series of projects aimed at replacing the Bullpup, including larger versions such as models C and D, as well as adapting the Bullpup to incorporate fire-and-forget guidance. Notable adaptations included the AGM-83 Bulldog, AGM-79 Blue Eye, and AGM-80 Viper.

During the period from 1966 to 1968, two prominent arms manufacturing companies, Hughes Missile Systems Division and Rockwell, engaged in fierce competition for the contract to develop an entirely new fire-and-forget missile that surpassed the range and performance capabilities of any previous Bullpup versions. Each company was allocated a budget of $3 million to conduct preliminary design and engineering work on the Maverick in 1966.

In July 1971, the United States Air Force (USAF) and Hughes signed a substantial $69.9 million contract for the production of 2,000 missiles, the first of which was delivered in 1972. The production of AGM-65A/B was halted in 1978 after more than 35,000 missiles had been manufactured. Meanwhile, Rockwell also joined the development effort and introduced additional Maverick variants, including the laser-guided AGM-65C/E. They built several development missiles for the USAF as part of their involvement in the program.

The key objectives for the Maverick’s development were as follows

A significant advancement in Precision Targeting: came with the introduction of the AGM-65D variant, which utilized an imaging infrared (IIR) seeker. This seeker technology allowed the missile to operate effectively in all weather conditions and demonstrated enhanced performance in detecting and tracking heat-emitting sources, such as tank engines and trucks, which were key targets for the weapon. The IIR seeker-head employed a mechanical scanning mechanism that covered the area using a nitrogen-cooled 4-by-4 pixel array. Mirrored facets were intricately machined on the inner surface of the main gyroscope’s ring-shaped structure. Development of the AGM-65D spanned five years, commencing in 1977 and culminating in the initial delivery to the USAF in October 1983.

The primary objective behind the design of the Maverick missile was to enhance the accuracy of air-to-ground attacks. By incorporating a sophisticated guidance system, it aimed to minimize collateral damage and increase the likelihood of hitting intended targets.

Versatility was a key objective for the developers of the AGM-65 Maverick missile: Their aim was to create a weapon system that could effectively engage a wide range of targets, including armoured vehicles, surface ships, and hardened structures. This versatility would significantly enhance the operational flexibility of the armed forces, as a single missile could be employed for multiple target types, meeting the requirements of both the air force and the Navy.

One notable variant, the AGM-65F, combines the imaging infrared (IIR) seeker of the AGM-65D with the warhead and propulsion components of the AGM-65E. This hybrid Maverick is specifically optimized for maritime strike missions and has been deployed by the United States Navy (USN). The first launch of an AGM-65F from a P-3C Orion maritime aircraft took place in 1989. In 1994, the USN awarded Unisys, an IT company, a contract to integrate this version with the P-3C aircraft.

During the mid-1990s to early 2000s, several concepts were explored to enhance Maverick’s capabilities. One such idea was the incorporation of millimetre wave active radar homing, which would enable the missile to determine the precise shape of a target. However, this plan did not come to fruition and remained unrealized.

The most recent variants of the Maverick missile are the AGM-65H and AGM-65K, which were in production as of 2007. The AGM-65H was developed by combining the AGM-65B with a charge-coupled device (CCD) seeker specifically optimized for desert operations. This upgraded seeker offered three times the range of the original TV sensor, providing enhanced target detection capabilities. Concurrently, a parallel program by the United States Navy (USN) aimed at upgrading AGM-65F missiles with newer CCD seekers resulted in the development of the AGM-65J variant.

On the other hand, the AGM-65K was developed by replacing the infrared (IR) guidance system of AGM-65G with an electro-optical television guidance system. This transition from IR to electro-optical technology further improved the missile’s target acquisition and tracking capabilities, enhancing its overall effectiveness.

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These advancements in the AGM-65H and AGM-65K variants reflect the continuous effort to enhance the Maverick missile’s performance and adapt it to various operational environments and requirements.

Photo Credit: Pinterest
Photo Credit: Pinterest

Later-Generation Variants of the AGM-65 Maverick Missile System

Over the years, several later-generation variants of the AGM-65 Maverick missile system have been developed to enhance its capabilities and address evolving operational requirements.

AGM-65B/D/G Maverick: These variants introduced improvements to Maverick’s guidance system. The AGM-65B incorporated an enhanced TV guidance system, enabling operators to visually track and guide the missile to the target. The AGM-65D replaced the electro-optical guidance with an imaging infrared system, doubling the practical firing distance and enabling its use at night and in adverse weather conditions. This model also introduced a reduced smoke rocket engine. The AGM-65G featured an upgraded infrared imaging seeker, enhancing its ability to engage targets based on their heat signatures. The G model’s major difference lies in its heavier penetrator warhead, taken from the Maverick E, in contrast to the D model’s shaped-charge warhead.

AGM-65E Maverick: The AGM-65E, also known as the Maverick ER (Extended Range), was developed to extend the missile’s engagement range. It features an improved rocket motor and increased fuel capacity, enabling it to engage targets at longer distances compared to earlier variants. This model utilizes a laser designator guidance system specifically optimized for fortified installations, employing a delayed fuse in conjunction with a heavier penetrating blast-fragmentation warhead weighing 140 kg. The warhead is designed to penetrate a target with its kinetic energy before detonation. The AGM-65E achieved initial operating capability (IOC) in 1985 and has been primarily utilized by USMC aviation.

AGM-65F Maverick: The AGM-65F, or the Maverick Block I, introduced several advancements to the Maverick system. designed especially for US Navy, it uses a modified Maverick D infrared guidance system optimized for tracking ships fitted onto a Maverick-E body and warhead. The AGM-65F also had the ability to engage targets in a “lock-on before launch” mode, allowing operators to acquire and track targets before missile launch.

AGM-65H/K Maverick: The AGM-65H and AGM-65K variants were developed with a focus on enhancing Maverick’s guidance and targeting capabilities. The ‘H’ model missile was equipped with a new charge-coupled device (CCD) seeker specifically designed for optimal performance in desert environments. This seeker provided improved target discrimination and recognition capabilities, particularly in challenging conditions. On the other hand, the ‘K’ model was an upgraded version of the AGM-65G, incorporating the CCD seeker. It was planned to convert approximately 2,500 AGM-65G rounds to the AGM-65K standard. Both the AGM-65H and AGM-65K variants also featured a reduced smoke motor, resulting in a decreased infrared signature and enhanced survivability of the missile.

AGM-65L Maverick: The AGM-65L, also known as the Maverick Block II (E2L), introduced additional upgrades to the Maverick system, resulting in improved capabilities. It incorporated a laser-guided seeker that enables designation by the launch aircraft, another aircraft, or a ground source. This seeker enhances the missile’s ability to detect and discriminate targets, especially in low-contrast scenarios. The AGM-65L is capable of engaging small, fast-moving, and manoeuvring targets both on land and at sea. Additionally, the AGM-65L variant featured a reduced smoke motor, which served to decrease its infrared signature.

Photo Credit: render crate
Photo Credit: render crate

Operational History of the AGM-65 Maverick Missile

The AGM-65 Maverick missile has a long operational history and has been employed extensively by the American military and a number of other nations since its inception. In October 1983, the Air Force received the first AGM-65D, and it initially became operational in February 1986. The first AGM-65G missiles went into service in 1989. The Maverick has participated in the following notable events and conflicts:

During the Vietnam War: the Maverick made its first operational deployment. In Operation Linebacker II, the last significant USAF operation of the Vietnam War, the missile had its combat debut. It demonstrated its effectiveness against a variety of targets, including enemy armour, bunkers, and buildings. For aircraft engaged in ground support missions, the missile provided an essential precision strike capability.

Gulf War (1990-1991): The Maverick played an incredibly prominent and pivotal role in the Gulf War. In August 1990, Iraq forcefully invaded Kuwait, prompting swift international action. In early 1991, the formidable US-led Coalition executed Operation Desert Storm, a momentous undertaking in which the Mavericks truly shone. These remarkable weapons were extensively employed by a variety of aircraft, including the F-15E Strike Eagles, F/A-18 Hornets, AV-8B Harriers, F-16 Fighting Falcons, and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs. However, it was the F-16s and A-10s that made predominant use of the Mavericks, with over 5,000 of these extraordinary missiles unleashed against armoured targets.

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Among the USAF’s arsenal, the most utilized variant of the Maverick was the IIR-guided AGM-65D. Reports indicate that the hit rate achieved by USAF Mavericks stood impressively at 80-90%, while the USMC attained a commendable 60% hit rate with AV-8B Harriers. Throughout the conflict, these remarkable weapons were extensively deployed by U.S. and coalition forces to effectively engage and neutralize Iraqi armour, fortified bunkers, strategic command centres, and other vital targets.

The Maverick’s unparalleled precision, versatility, and sheer power proved absolutely invaluable in this historic conflict, contributing significantly to the resounding success of coalition operations.

Yugoslav Wars (1990s): The Maverick missile system played an instrumental role in numerous operations carried out during the Balkans conflict, including the fiercely fought conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo. These advanced missiles were expertly employed against a wide range of targets, including enemy armour, command and control centres, strategic bridges, and other significant objectives. The Maverick’s exceptional ability to engage these targets with unparalleled precision proved to be of utmost importance in effectively neutralizing threats while simultaneously minimizing the risk of collateral damage and unintended casualties.

Iraq War (2003-2011): The Maverick missile system played a significant and extensive role throughout the duration of the Iraq War. It is estimated that more than 900 Mavericks were utilized during this conflict. These exceptional weapons were employed for precision strikes against a diverse array of targets, including armoured vehicles, buildings, and enemy positions of strategic importance.

Afghanistan War (2001-2021): The Maverick has been extensively used throughout the conflict in Afghanistan. It has been effectively employed against enemy vehicles, fortified positions, and other mountainous-based targets to dismantle Taliban strongholds. The Maverick’s exceptional precision capabilities have consistently proven instrumental in minimizing civilian casualties and mitigating collateral damage in the face of the complex and challenging operational environment experienced in Afghanistan.

The AGM-65 Maverick’s operational history demonstrates its effectiveness and adaptability in a wide range of conflicts and operational scenarios. Its precision strike capabilities, versatility, and reliability have made it a staple weapon in the arsenal of many military forces around the world.

Photo Credit: USAF
Photo Credit: USAF

Technical Specifications Of The AGM-65D/E/F/G/H/J/K – Maverick Missile

  • WeightAGM-65D: 220 kg ( 485 lb ) / AGM-65E: 293 kg ( 645 lb ) / AGM-65F/G: 306 kg ( 675 lb ) / AGM-65H: 211 kg ( 465 lb ) / AGM-65J: 297 kg ( 654 lb ) / AGM-65K: 306kg ( 675 lb )
  • Length:  8 ft 2 in ( 2.49 m )
  • Diameter:  12 inches ( 30 cm )
  • Wingspan:  28.3 inches ( 72 cm )
  • WarheadAGM-65D/E/F/G/J/K:  136 kg ( 300 lb )_Penetrating blast-fragmentation / AGM-65H:  57 kg ( 126 lb )_Shaped charge warhead
  • Detonation: Various impact fuze options
  • Engine:  Solid propellant rocket motor
  • Propellant: Solid propellant
  • Range:  Estimated, 20km to 28 km
  • Speed:  Subsonic, Mach-0.93
  • Guidance systemAGM-65H/J/K: Electro-optical guidance / AGM-65D/F/G: Imaging infrared guidance / AGM-65E: Laser guidance
  • Launch Platform:  The AGM-65 Maverick missile can be launched from all NATO standard fighter jets, including F-4G, EA-6B, F-15E, F-16, F/A-18A/B/C/D/E/F, EA-18G, Tornado IDS/ECR, Eurofighter Typhoon, and F-35.

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In conclusion, the AGM-65 Maverick missile has proven its effectiveness and versatility throughout its operational history. From its early deployment in the Vietnam War to its continued use in modern conflicts, the Maverick’s precision targeting, versatility, and cost-effectiveness have made it a valuable asset on the battlefield. Its various upgrades and variants have enhanced its capabilities, allowing it to engage a wide range of targets with precision. As a reliable and trusted air-to-ground missile, the Maverick remains an important weapon system for military forces worldwide.

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