Over two decades have passed since the laser-guided version of Raytheon’s AGM-65 missile left production but, due to emerging requirements, the “laser Maverick” is back.
Recent operational experience has shown a need to hit targets that not only are fast, but also are maneuvering. That class of target is not found just on land, it is increasingly at sea as both pirates and small boat swarms threaten vessels. The ability to hit these fast, maneuvering targets in a high-traffic environment with great accuracy is becoming crucial. The longer-term answer for the U.S. lies in the JAGM missile program, but in the interim the U.S. military is turning again to the AGM-65E laser Maverick, which was originally procured for the Marine Corps in the mid-1980s.
Revisiting this weapon began by bringing it up to date through the replacement of a few obsolete parts, and by fixing some previous issues. For instance, the original AGM-65E would fly long if the laser lock was lost, but the current weapon will now fly broadly toward the target area. A rigorous developmental/operational testing phase ensued, during which 15 of the new-generation missiles were fired at a variety of targets from the A-10, F-16, F/A-18 and AV-8. Some of the targets were traveling at more than 70 mph.
Conducted in conjunction with the U.S. Air Force’s Seek Eagle office, successful development and operational trials led to a production contract being awarded to Raytheon late last year for an initial batch of 256 missiles, mostly for the Air Force but with a few for the Navy. The Air Force version is designated AGM-65L, while the Navy missile is the AGM-65E2, the latter differing only in having a safe-arm switch to satisfy insensitive munition requirements for shipboard carriage. The first delivery is due in the fourth quarter of this year.
With the laser Maverick back in production Raytheon sees a good opportunity to export the weapon, which is available through both direct commercial and foreign military sales channels. Versions of the missile are widely used around the world, and users of earlier versions could upgrade their weapons through the integration of the new guidance section to existing motor/warhead sections. This would provide current laser capability at greatly reduced cost compared with procuring a new weapon type.