NEWS

Air Force is upgrading a Vietnam War-era missile to better target ISIS fighters

The Air Force is seeking more upgraded Maverick air-to-ground missiles, an air-launched weapon in service since the Vietnam era now receiving an upgraded laser-seeker along with new software configurations to better enable it to hit targets on the run, such as ISIS fighters.


The upgraded weapon is currently configured to fire from an Air Force F-16 and A-10 and Navy Harrier Jets and F/A-18s.

"The upgrades are not completed. Raytheon Missile Systems will deliver several hundred upgraded Guidance Control Sections from January-June 2018. In addition, the U.S. Air Force is currently in negotiations with Raytheon for additional upgraded GCS for delivery after 2018," Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Emily Grabowski told Warrior.

US military weapons developers have explained that the Laser Maverick (LMAV) E2 seeker upgrade is capable of precisely targeting and destroying a wide variety of fixed, stationary and high speed moving land or sea targets.

The LMAV E2 upgrade program has been implemented as a seeker and sustainment upgrade, she added. The Air Force has been attacking ISIS with the upgraded Maverick through a prior deal to receive 256 missiles from its maker, Raytheon.

Also, there is an existing laser-guided version of the Maverick already in use; the new variant involves a substantial improvement in the weapon's guidance and targeting systems.

The AGM-65E2, as it's called, will continue to be used to attack ISIS as part of the ongoing Operation Inherent Resolve, US military officials said. Such a technology is of particular relevance against ISIS because the ongoing U.S. Coalition air bombing has made it virtually impossible for ISIS to gather in large formations, use convoys of armored vehicles or mass large numbers of fighters.

As a result, their combat tactics are now largely restricted to movement in small groups such as pick-up trucks or groups of fighters deliberately blended in with civilians. This kind of tactical circumstance, without question, underscores the need for precision weaponry from the air – weapons which can destroy maneuvering and fast-moving targets.

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Deana Heitzman

As opposed to being a free-fall weapon, the Maverick has a rocket on it; it travels faster and has maneuverability to follow a laser spot on a fast-moving pick-up truck, Raytheon developers told Warrior.

The Maverick uses Semi-Active Laser, or SAL, guidance to follow a laser "spot" or designation from an aircraft itself, a nearby aircraft or ground asset to paint the target.

For the upgrades, existing AGM-65A/B Guidance and Control Sections are modified with a state-of-the-art Semi-Active Laser E2 seeker target. The missiles with upgraded seekers add the capability to self-lase from the delivery platform, address numerous changes in response to parts obsolescence, and add Pulse repetition frequency (PRF) last code hold to ease pilot workload, US military weapons developers told Warrior last year.

The weapon can also use infrared and electro-optical or EO guidance to attack target. It can use a point detonation fuse designed to explode upon impact or a delayed fuse allowing the missile to penetrate a structure before detonating as a way to maximize its lethal impact. It uses a 300-pound "blast-frag" warhead engineered to explode shrapnel and metal fragments in all directions near or on a designated target.

(FLIR screen capture: U.S. Navy)

Raytheon weapons developers told Warrior the Maverick uses a blast but not quite as large as a 500-pound bomb for lower collateral damage.

Also, In the event of a loss of LASER lock, the upgraded missiles are able to de-arm & fly towards last seen laser spot; and will re-arm & guide to target with laser reacquisition.

Fighter pilots describe the Maverick as a weapon of choice for fast-moving and rapidly maneuvering targets, according to developers.

In addition to its role against ground targets such as ISIS, the Maverick weapon able to hit maneuvering targets at sea such as small attack boats.

"It has a rocket on it versus being a free-fall weapon. It travels faster and has maneuverability to follow a laser spot on a fast-moving pick-up truck," McKenzie explained.