The AGM-86B and C air-launched cruise missiles were developed to increase
the effectiveness of B-52 bombers. In combination, they dilute an enemy's forces
and complicate defense of its territory.
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
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.
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
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).
Primary Function: Air-to-surface strategic missile
Boeing Aerospace Co.
Guidance Contractors: Litton Guidance and Control,
and Rockwell-Collins Avionics (AGM-86C)
Power Plant: Williams Research Corp.
F-107-WR-10 turbofan engine
Thrust: 600 pounds (270 kilograms)
20 feet, 9 inches (6.29 meters)
Weight: 3,150 pounds (1,417.5 kilograms)
24.5 inches (62.23 centimeter)
Wingspan: 12 feet (3.64 meters)
AGM-86B: 1,500-plus miles (1,305 nautical miles); AGM-86C: Classified
About 550 mph (Mach 0.73)
Guidance System: Litton inertial navigation element
with terrain contour-matching updates
Warheads: Nuclear capable
A terrain contour-matching guidance system that allows the missile to fly complicated
routes to a target through use of maps of the planned flight route stored in on-board
Unit Cost: $1 million
Date Deployed: December 1982
Active force, 1,628; ANG, 0; Reserve, 0