The AGM-86D, We Hardly Knew Ye

The US Air Force is retiring the AGM-86D penetrator only a few years after spending tens of millions of dollars to make the weapon. Why?

Here’s the article, which I wrote, posted on

USAF pulls plug on Boeing penetrator cruise missile

Service withdraws support funding for inventory of around 50 bunker-busting weapons

TheUS Air Force has decided to abruptly retire the penetrator version of a453kg (1,000lb)-class cruise missile only around five years after itentered service, according to industry sources.

The decisionto retire the stockpile of about 50 Boeing AGM-86D ConventionalAir-Launched Cruise Missiles has not been formally announced, but theUSAF has quietly deleted all funding to operate and maintain theweapons in its fiscal year 2008 budget request submitted to Congress inFebruary.

If the retirement stands, the US military would losethe only 453kg-class weapon in its inventory able to strike deeplyburied targets at ranges up to 2,500km (1,350nm).

"No-one seemsto be clear on what the real purpose of zeroing out the -86D was," saysJohn Griffiths, Boeing programme manager for the CALCM andnuclear-armed Air Launched Cruise Missile family of weapons. Griffithsis optimistic the air force’s programme office for CALCM, with thesupport of the US Strategic Command, will be able to restore the $2million needed to keep the AGM-86D inventory alive.

In 1999, theair force decided to convert about 50 ALCMs to the conventional AGM-86Dpenetrator. It introduced the new variant from 2001 and a number weresuccessfully used in Iraq.

But the AGM-86D lacks a majorcapability that had helped to justify its development. The air forceintended to integrate a new fuze that could sense voids and countlayers, allowing the weapon to detonate at a precise spot in a tunnelor bunker complex. That technology – the Alliant Techsystemshard-target smart fuze – failed to work properly, and is now used witha standard time-delay setting.

The US Defense Threat ReductionAgency is funding a programme to integrate a smaller version of EADS’sprogrammable intelligent multipurpose fuze with the AGM-86D by 2010.This could also be integrated with the Lockheed Martin AGM-158 JASSMand Raytheon AGM-154C JSOW penetrator.


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