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Missile retrofit provides better accuracy, saves Air Force money

by Senior Airman Amanda Dick
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

9/4/2009 - RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFNS) -- Members of the 86th Munitions Squadron here recently upgraded their AGM-65 Maverick H-and-K-model missile systems as part of the Air Force effort to modernize its air and space inventories.

With the help of an Air Force Reserve ammunition team and a Maverick Systems Program Office team from Raytheon Missile Systems, the company who created the missile, the project was completed in 10 days in August

The project enhanced the effectiveness of more than 70 missiles by replacing the software circuit card in the guidance control section.

"Raytheon did an analysis on their software along with some live fire test at Hill Air Force Base, Utah," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Montaldo, 86th MUNS conventional maintenance section assistant NCO in charge. "They were hitting at about 83 percent, which wasn't good enough for them because they wanted to get closer to 100 percent," "They undertook a tracker study over the course of three years and determined that if they upgraded the software card into the existing stockpile, it would increase the missiles' accuracy."

Process and benefits of the upgrade

Before the upgrading process, or retrofit, could begin, munitions Airmen from the 86th MUNS had to prepare their work stations to create a controlled atmosphere while handling the missiles.

"We had to set up one of our [maintenance] bays for a clean air environment where the Raytheon SPO team set up a specialized tent in case humidity was too high," Sergeant Montaldo said.

To move the missiles, the Airman pulled them out of storage, filtered them through the work area and put them back into storage. Each missile weighed either 466 or 654 pounds, depending on the model.

In order to complete this upgrade, the five-person Air Force Reserve ammunition team and 12 86th MUNS Airmen removed the guidance control section of the missile, and positioned it in the clean room. There the five-person Raytheon SPO team upgraded the card and tested the section to make sure the circuitry was installed correctly.

Not only does the upgrade allow for increased accuracy, but also the new software card now gives the pilot an in-flight abort option.

"The pilots will now have a fail-safe, so they can, at the last minute, hit abort and the missile will veer off," said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Dillenbeck, 86th MUNS conventional maintenance element crew chief.

According to Sergeant Montaldo, the better accuracy and abort option also helps control the amount of collateral damage caused. And, upgrade of the missiles also has an added monetary benefit.

"Other than the increased reliability of the assets, the Air Force will save $42.8 million by upgrading their existing stockpile," Sergeant Montaldo said. "They won't have to pay for more new missiles or the shipping costs involved."

About the missile

The AGM-65 Maverick is used on fighter aircraft for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, the AGM-65 Maverick H and K models use a camera to track their targets, sending a picture of what it sees back to the pilot. Once the pilot identifies and selects a target and the missile locks on, the pilot will release the missile to seek its designated target.

"This missile (the H model) is a blast-fragment missile. It's designed for taking out personnel on the ground; things like that," said Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Fiske, an Air Force Reserve ammunition team munitions inspector. "The K model is a penetrator missile. It's designed for taking out things like heavy armored tanks. It will punch a softball-sized hole through several inches of armor plating and pretty much incinerate anything inside."

Though Ramstein AB has no fighter aircraft, the missiles are stored here because of Germany's proximity to locations down range.

"Ramstein AB is a hub for airlift," Sergeant Montaldo said. "If someone in the (area of responsibility) needs AGM-65s in a hurry, our tasking is to have some prepared on aircraft pallets ready to go. That way we can just send the missiles down there when they are needed; we supply them basically. Instead of having to ship missiles all the way from the United States or pull them off a ship, we've got a stockpile here for short-notice contingencies."

Ramstein AB was the fourth base to participate in the retrofit program so far. By July 2011, more than 2,000 AGM-65 Maverick H and K models will have been updated across the Air Force.

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