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Air-to-Ground Missiles: AGM-65 Maverick

The AGM-65 Maverick is an air-to-ground tactical missile used by the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. Developed by Hughes Missile Systems between 1966 and 1972, the Maverick is used against targets such as armor, ground vehicles, air defenses, and ships up to 14 miles away. The Maverick is the smallest air-to-ground missile in the Air Force inventory, with a similar form factor to the AIM-4 Falcon and AIM-54 Phoenix. It is certified for use on approximately 25 aircraft and has been deployed in Vietnam, and more recently in the Gulf Wars.

USAF F-16C Fighting Falcon aircraft assigned to the 160th Fighter Squadron, 187th Fighter Wing, Alabama Air National Guard, fires an AGM-65D Maverick air-to-ground missile over the Utah Test and Training Range, during exercise Combat Hammer, 29 July 2002
USAF F-16C Fighting Falcon aircraft assigned to the 160th Fighter Squadron, 187th Fighter Wing, Alabama Air National Guard, fires an AGM-65D Maverick air-to-ground missile over the Utah Test and Training Range, during exercise Combat Hammer, 29 July 2002.

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-65 Maverick Air-to-Ground Missile Development

US Navy Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Brandon Duncan, left, and Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class Bobby Rafalski, both assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 47, remove the hoisting mechanism from an AGM-65 Maverick missile after loading it on a wing ordnance rack of a P-3C Orion aircraft in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, 14 July 2010.
US Navy Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Brandon Duncan, left, and Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class Bobby Rafalski, both assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 47, remove the hoisting mechanism from an AGM-65 Maverick missile after loading it on a wing ordnance rack of a P-3C Orion aircraft in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, 14 July 2010.

In 1965 the U.S. Air Force undertook a program to replace the AGM-12 Bullpup, requiring a new missile that did not have to be launched from an aircraft flying straight at the target during the missile's flight. As a result, the Air Force issued the ZAGM-65A Maverick requirement.

Hughes Missile Systems and Rockwell competed for a contract to replace the Bullpup between 1966 and 1968. Hughes emerged victorious, and on 18 December 1968 successfully completed the first test of the new missile, designated the XAGM-65A, firing it at a tank at the Air Force Missile Development Center at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. The Air Force contracted with Hughes for 2,000 missiles in July 1971, the first being delivered in 1972.

The Maverick is modular, allowing different combinations of warheads and guidance packages to be attached to the rocket motor section, resulting in a different missile. Its stretched delta wings and cylindrical body are similar to the configuration of the AIM-4 Falcon and AIM-65 Phoenix air-to-air missiles. The propulsion system for all Mavericks uses a solid-fuel rocket. The Maverick is fired using a single-rail LAU-117/A or a triple-rail LAU-88/A launcher.

The AGM-65 can use two types of warheads. The first has a contact fuse in the nose, and the second uses a heavyweight warhead with a delayed-action fuse, allowing the missile to penetrate its target before detonation. The second warhead is typically used against large, hardened targets.

The Maverick must be given its target information by the launch aircraft's pilot or Weapon Systems Officer (WSO). Once a target is designated, the Maverick flies autonomously, making it a "fire and forget" weapon. An exception to this is the AGM-65E, which uses semi-active laser homing.

SRA Jason Chaffin, 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, loads an AGM-65 Maverick Missile on an A-10 Thunderbolt, 10 April 1999. The nose of the AGM-65 has a camera that the pilot uses to guide the missile to the target
SRA Jason Chaffin, 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, loads an AGM-65 Maverick Missile on an A-10 Thunderbolt, 10 April 1999. The nose of the AGM-65 has a camera that the pilot uses to guide the missile to the target.

The first variant of the Maverick, the AGM-65A, was not expected to operate well against Warsaw Pact forces in the hazy conditions found in Central Europe. It used a Thiokol TX-481 dual-thrust solid rocket motor, with an electro-optical (EO) guidance system. The pilot of the launch aircraft selected a target, and the missile locked onto the image, then homed in on the target.

To improve the AGM-65A Maverick, Hughes began to develop the AGM-65B in 1975. This variant included optics to magnify the pilot's view of targets. The pilot could thus engage more distant or smaller targets. The total number of AGM-65A and -65B missiles produced exceeded 35,000 by 1978 when they were phased out.

In 1978 Rockwell began development of the laser-guided AGM-65C and -65E. The high cost of these variants led to the Air Force refusing procurement; the Marine Corps instead opted to deploy them under the designation AGM-65E for use in close-air support.

The AGM-65D, on the other hand, used a WG-10/B infrared imaging (IIR) seeker. This improvement not only allowed for operation in any weather, but also doubled the lock-on range compared to the AGM-65A. The AGM-65D also used the Thiokol TX-633 motor, an upgrade that produced less smoke. The Air Force took delivery of the first AGM-65Es in October 1983, and this variant reached initial operating capability in February 1986.

The next Maverick variant, the AGM-65F, combined the IIR seeker found in the AGM-65D and the propulsion components of the AGM-65E, optimizing it for maritime strike duties. The AGM-65D included a safing/arming device (SAD) for shipboard safety. Produced by Unisys, the Navy deployed the AGM-65E in the late 1980s, utilizing it on the P-3C.

The AGM-65G was developed and manufactured by Hughes. It is very similar to the AGM-65D, but has software modifications for tracking larger targets and a shaped-charge warhead.

The Maverick underwent further improvements and upgrades, resulting in the AGM-65H/J/K variants. The AGM-65H is the result of adding a charge-coupled device (CCD) seeker optimized for desert operations to the AGM-65B. This gave the new missile three times the range of the original TV sensor system. The Navy undertook a similar program to add a new CCD seeker to the AGM-65F, resulting in the AGM-65J. The AGM-65K was born from using an electro-optical television guidance system instead of the IIR guidance system in the AGM-65G.

AGM-65 Maverick Operational History

A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, piloted by 1LT Dale Stark with the 355th Fighter Squadron, fires an AGM-65 Maverick missile during live fire training over the Pacific Alaska Range Complex, Alaska, 24 April 2007
A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, piloted by 1LT Dale Stark with the 355th Fighter Squadron, fires an AGM-65 Maverick missile during live fire training over the Pacific Alaska Range Complex, Alaska, 24 April 2007.

The AGM-65 became operational on 30 August 1972. First used on F-4D/Es and A-7s by the Air Force in Vietnam, it achieved a high success rate against enemy targets.

During Operation Desert Storm, Mavericks were used mainly by A-10 Thunderbolt and F-16 Eagle fighters to attack armored targets. Over 5,000 Mavericks were deployed, mostly the AGM-65D with its IIR seeker. The Air Force reported a hit rate of 80 to 90 percent, whereas the Marine Corps reported a rate of 60 percent.

In the Iraq War in 2003, the Maverick was again deployed, with 918 being fired against enemy targets.

A Navy Lockheed P-3 Orion fired a Maverick for the first time on 28 March 2011 during action to assist Libyan rebels. The Orion launched a Maverick against a Libyan Coast Guard vessel in the port of Misrata, Libya.

Characteristics of the AGM-65 Maverick

Power PlantSolid propellant rocket motor
Length8 ft. 2 in.
Diameter12 in.
Wing Span2 ft. 4 in.
Weight462 to 804 lbs.
Speed715 mph
Range14 mi.
Warhead125 lb. WDU-20/B shaped-charge; 300 lb. WDU-24/B penetrating blast-fragmentation
Guidance systemElectro-optical, infrared imaging, laser-guidance, or charge-coupled device

Note: Characteristics change slightly depending on the AGM-65 variant.

Recommended Books about Air-to-Ground Weapons and the AGM-65 Maverick

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