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Air-to-Ground Missiles: AGM-12 Bullpup

The AGM-12 Bullpup was the first mass-produced air-to-ground missile in the U.S. military. Deployed by the U.S. Navy in 1959, it was created based on experiences in the Korean War. The Bullpup was used on aircraft such as the A-4 Skyhawk, A-6 Intruder, F-105 Thunderbolt, and F-4 Phantom. Unlike earlier missiles and bombs, the Bullpup was a guided weapon. It was eventually replaced in the 1970s with the AGM-62 Walleye and the AGM-65 Maverick.

AGM-12B Bullpup A missile on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery, National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Dayton, OH
AGM-12B Bullpup A missile on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery, National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Dayton, OH.

Today in WW II: 1 Sep 1939 German troops, tanks, and aircraft begin Blitzkrieg attack on Poland, the start of WW II in Europe.   

AGM-12 Bullpup Air-to-Ground Missile Development

Martin AGM-12C Bullpup B on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Dayton, OH
Martin AGM-12C Bullpup B on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Dayton, OH.

During the Korean War, the U.S. Navy found unguided bombs and missiles to be inadequate for destroying heavily defended targets such as bridges. A guided weapon that could be fired from a "standoff" distance, keeping the pilot and aircraft safe, was needed. The Navy issued an operational requirement for a short-range air-to-ground guided missile in 1953.

Martin Aircraft Co. won the competition to develop the new weapon and began the project in April 1954. The new missile was designated the ASM-N-7 Bullpup. The first successful air launch of a prototype took place in June 1955. The ASM-N-7 production version entered service with the Navy in April 1959.

The Bullpup was a roll-stabilized missile. It used a solid-rocket motor and carried a derivative of a standard 250-pound bomb. The ASM-N-7a Bullpup A was tested and brought into service in 1960, with a new liquid-fueled rocket engine with storable propellant giving it greater range. The new Bullpup also had an improved warhead.

The Bullpup used a manual command, line-of-sight guidance system. The pilot or weapons system officer (WSO) visually identified a target, and then launched the Bullpup. The pilot or WSO used a control stick to manually steer the missile based on visual feedback from two flares on the rear of the missile. The launching aircraft thus had to follow the Bullpup toward its target for optimal performance.

Martin Bullpup B model in the NASA Ames Research Center Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel, 15 September 1959
Martin Bullpup B model in the NASA Ames Research Center Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel, 15 September 1959.

In Vietnam, enemy gunners on the ground adapted to the Bullpup launch methodology by firing toward the incoming smoke trail from the missile's flares, allowing them to hit launching aircraft. Pilots countered by jigging their flight path slightly to avoid anti-aircraft fire, with some success.

The ASM-N-7b Bullpup B represented a major step forward for the Bullpup. The missile was given a larger body section, enlarged wings, and a new Thiokol rocket engine with much greater thrust. This variant was first tested in 1962, and entered service in 1964. This was also the first variant adopted by the U.S. Air Force.

The Air Force contracted with Martin to create an advanced form of the Bullpup in 1955. This missile was to have greater range and be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The Air Force also wanted the new missile to have a guidance system that did not require the aircraft to follow the missile to the target. While this new missile, designated the GAM-79 White Lance, was under development, the Air Force adopted the ASM-N-7 Bullpup under the designation GAM-83.

The technology in the White Lance was merged with continued Bullpup development. The Air Force designated this missile the GAM-83A Bullpup, which was essentially the same as the ASM-N-7a Bullpup A. The GAM-83B was an improved version, capable of carrying a nuclear fission warhead.

The AGM-12 designation was introduced in June 1963, unifying the separate designation schemes used by the Navy and Air Force. Four variants were developed over the course of the Bullpup's lifetime.

  • The AGM-12B used a conventional 250-pound high-explosive blast-fragmentation warhead. Its theoretical range was increased to 7 miles due to the use of a storable liquid-fuel rocket, but its guidance system effectively limited the operational range. The lightweight warhead allowed virtually any aircraft to carry the missile, but the low explosive yield proved insufficient to destroy larger targets.
  • The AGM-12C was equipped with a 1,000-pound blast-fragmentation warhead with semi-armor-piercing capability. Its theoretical range was further improved to 10 miles with the introduction of a more powerful rocket engine.
  • The AGM-12D was similar to the AGM-12B in performance but designed to carry a tactical nuclear fission weapon. Its diameter was increased to accommodate the larger warhead.
  • The AGM-12E was derived from the AGM-12C, with the warhead replaced by antipersonnel cluster bombs comprised of 800 to 830 bomblets. The AGM-12E was designed for use against anti-aircraft emplacements in Vietnam, but only about 800 were produced.

A total of approximately 30,000 AGM-12 Bullpup missiles were manufactured. The AGM-12 was retired from service in the 1970s as better air-to-ground missiles were developed.

AGM-12 Bullpup Operational History

AGM-12 Bullpup carried by A4D-2 Skyhawk and FJ-4B Fury belonging to Air Development Squadron 4 during testing at Point Mugu, CA, HQ Pacific Missile Range, circa 1959
AGM-12 Bullpup carried by A4D-2 Skyhawk and FJ-4B Fury belonging to Air Development Squadron 4 during testing at Point Mugu, CA, HQ Pacific Missile Range, circa 1959.

The Bullpup was first deployed overseas in April 1959 on FJ-4B Furies as a part of the Seventh Fleet in the Pacific. In August 1959, A4D aircraft deployed with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea carried the Bullpup.

The Bullpup was used widely in the Vietnam War. The Air Force began using the Bullpup on F-4 and F-105 fighters. However, the AGM-12 was not particularly effective against large concrete structures, such as bridges in North Vietnam, due to the relatively low yield of its warhead. For example, the Thanh Hoa Bridge (or "Dragon's Jaw" Bridge), 70 miles south of Hanoi, was attacked during April 1965 by aircraft carrying the AGM-12 Bullpup missiles. The 250-pound warhead proved too lightweight to do any real damage.

During July 1978 three Seaplane Patrol Squadron ONE (VP-1) crews fired the last Bullpup AGM-12 missiles during runs on practice targets. The practice firings were the last by Navy patrol aircraft, as the missile was removed that month from the Navy's inventory.

Characteristics of the AGM-12 Bullpup

Power PlantRocket motor
Length13.6 ft.
Diameter18 in.
Wing Span48 in.
Weight569 lbs. (AGM-12B); 1,785 lbs. (AGM-12C)
SpeedMach 1.8
Range7 mi. (AGM-12B); 10 mi. (AGM-12C)
WarheadConventional high-explosive warhead
Guidance systemManual line-of-sight guidance

Note: Characteristics change slightly depending on the AGM-12 variant.

Recommended Books about Air-to-Ground Weapons and the AGM-12 Bullpup

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