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The AGM-86B and C Air-Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCM) were developed to increase the effectiveness of B-52 bombers. In combination, they dilute an enemy's forces and complicate defense of its territory.
The small, winged AGM-86B is powered by a turbofan jet engine that propels it at sustained subsonic speeds. After launch, the missile's folded wings, tail surfaces and engine inlet deploy. It then is able to fly complicated routes to a target through use of a terrain contour-matching guidance system. During flight, this system compares surface characteristics with maps of the planned flight route stored in on-board computers to determine the missile's location. As the missile nears its target, comparisons become more specific, guiding the missile to target with pinpoint accuracy.
The B-52 and the AGM-86B increase flexibility to attack targets. AGM-86B missiles can be air-launched in large numbers by the bomber force. The B-52H bombers carry six AGM-86B missiles on each of two externally mounted pylons and have been modified with a bomb bay rotary launcher for eight additional air-launched cruise missiles. The AGM-86C differs from the B model in that it is a conventional air-launched cruise missile.
An enemy force would have to counterattack each of the missiles, making defense against them costly and complicated. The enemy's defenses are further hampered by the missiles' small size and low-altitude flight capability, which makes them difficult to detect on radar.
In February 1974, the Air Force entered into contract to develop and flight-test the prototype AGM-86A air-launched cruise missile, which was slightly smaller than the later B and C models. The 86A model did not go into production. Instead, in January 1977, the Air Force began full-scale development of the AGM-86B, which greatly enhanced the B-52's capabilities and helped America maintain a strategic deterrent.
Production of the initial 225 AGM-86B missiles began in fiscal year 1980 and production of a total 1,715 missiles was completed in October 1986. The air-launched cruise missile had become operational four years earlier, in December 1982, with the 416th Bombardment Wing, Griffiss Air Force Base, N.Y., which deactivated when the base closed in 1995.
In June 1986 a limited number of AGM-86B missiles were converted to carry a high-explosive blast/fragmentation warhead and were redesignated as the AGM-86C model. This modification also replaced the missiles' terrain contour-matching guidance system by integration of a Global Positioning System capability with the existing inertial navigation computer system. The C model became operational in January 1991 at the onset of Operation Desert Storm. B-52s, flying "round-robin" missions from Barksdale AFB, La., at designated launch points in the U. S. Central Command's area of responsibility, attacked high-priority targets in Iraq. These missions marked the beginning of the air campaign for Kuwait's liberation and are the longest known aircraft combat sorties in history (more than 14,000 miles and 35 hours of flight).

General characteristics

Primary function Air-to-surface strategic missile
Contractor Boeing Aerospace Co.; Litton Guidance and Control a Rockwell-Collins Avionics (guidance system)
Power plant Williams Research Corp. F-107-WR-10 turbofan engine
Thrust 600 lb 2.67 kN
Length 20 ft 9 in 6.29 m
Weight 3,150 lb 1,417.5 kg
Diameter 24.5 in 62.2 cm
Wingspan 12 ft 3.6 m
Range AGM-86B 1,500 miles 2,414 km
AGM-86C Classified
Speed 550 mph 885 km/h
Warhead High explosive; nuclear capable
Unit cost $1 million
Date deployed December 1980
Inventory Active force, 1,628; ANG, 0; Reserve, 0

Jirka Wagner


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