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Air-to-Ground Missiles: AGM-45 Shrike

The AGM-45 Shrike was the first anti-radiation missile (ARM) used to attack antiaircraft radar. Based on the U.S. Navy AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile, the Shrike was developed at the Naval Weapons Center at China Lake, CA. Designed to destroy surface-to-air (SAM) sites, the Shrike was first deployed by the Navy in the Vietnam War in 1965. The Air Force adopted the missile in the following year for its F-105 aircraft in a suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) role. The Shrike was also used to "mark" a radar site for attack by unguided rockets and bombs. The Shrike was retired in 1992, replaced by the AGM-88 HARM missile.

AGM-45 Shrike
AGM-45 Shrike.

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AGM-45 Shrike Air-to-Ground Missile Development

AGM-45 Shrike missile mounted on the wing pylon of an F-4G Wild Weasel Phantom II aircraft, 37th Tactical Fighter Wing, George AFB, 9 May 1988
AGM-45 Shrike missile mounted on the wing pylon of an F-4G Wild Weasel Phantom II aircraft, 37th Tactical Fighter Wing, George AFB, 9 May 1988.

The development of the AGM-45 Shrike started in 1958 at the Naval Weapons Center, China Lake, CA. Designated the ASM-N-10 initially, the missile was designed as a countermeasure against the Soviet S-75 SAM system, known within NATO as the SA-2 Guideline. The ASM-N-10 would home in on the Fan Song guidance radar of the SA-2 system to destroy it.

The ASM-N-10 was based on the airframe of the AIM-7 Sparrow . However, it had a larger warhead, smaller tail fins, and a smaller, less powerful rocket motor. The Shrike was redesignated the AGM-45A in June 1963. Large-scale production of the AGM-45A-1 started at Sperry Rand/Univac and Texas Instruments for both the Navy and Air Force.

The Shrike was powered by a Rocketdyne MK39 solid-fuel rocket motor or, in some missiles, by an Aerojet MK 53 MOD 1. It carried one of three blast fragmentation warheads and utilized a dual-mode proximity and impact fuse.

AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missile, George AFB, February 1988
AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missile, George AFB, February 1988.

The method of attack for the Shrike involved lofting it about 30 degrees above the horizon from a distance of about 15 miles from its SAM target. The onboard seeker activated after the missile reached its peak altitude, detected the SAM radar emissions, and guided the missile to the target.

The AGM-45 Shrike had several limitations. The Shrike sensors had a narrow field of view, requiring the launch aircraft to be pointing almost directly at the SAM target. The Shrike also operated on a fixed frequency range, requiring a new variant to be developed whenever enemy radar began using a different frequency. Further, the Shrike did not have onboard target memory so that if target lock was lost, for instance because the enemy SAM site shut down, the missile then followed a ballistic trajectory.

The above limitations led to a wide range of variants for the AGM-45 Shrike.

  • The AGM-45A-1 was the initial Shrike, first deployed in 1965;
  • The AGM-45A-2 had a seeker tuned to a different frequency band. It also had a white phosphorus target marker in the warhead to mark the impact point;
  • The AGM-45A-3 used angle gating to assign target priority. This feature was also used on all subsequent Shrike variants;
  • The AGM-45B introduced modified warheads and motors in the 1970s. The adoption of the Aerojet MK 78 dual-thrust solid rocket increased the maximum range from 10 miles to 25 miles.

Further subvariants were produced based on the need to change the seeker frequency band.

AGM-45 Shrike Operational History

F-4E Phantom II aircraft of the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing launches an AGM-45 Shrike missile, George AFB, August 1988
F-4E Phantom II aircraft of the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing launches an AGM-45 Shrike missile, George AFB, August 1988.

The Shrike began service with the Navy in 1965 and was ultimately used on a wide range of aircraft, including the A-4, A-6, and A-7. The Air Force began using the Shrike in 1966 on its F-105F and G Thunderchief aircraft for SEAD operations, also known as Wild Weasel operations during Iron Hand in Vietnam. Later, the F-4 Phantom II undertook a similar role with the Shrike.

The Shrike was used throughout Vietnam and Southeast Asia until the development of the AGM-78 Standard ARM. Some pilots disliked the Shrike because of its operational limits and a low success rate of approximately 25 percent.

During Operation Desert Storm, approximately 95 AGM-45 Shrike missiles were used against Iraqi air defenses, fired primarily by F-4Gs.

Characteristics of the AGM-45 Shrike

Power PlantRocketdyne MK39 solid-fuel rocket motor
Length10 ft.
Diameter8 in.
Wing Span3 ft.
Weight390 lbs.
SpeedMach 2
Range25 mi.
WarheadBlast-fragmentation
Guidance systemPassive radar homing

Note: Characteristics change slightly depending on the AGM-45 variant.

Recommended Books about Air-to-Ground Weapons and the AGM-45 Shrike

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