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AGM-124 Wasp

During the Cold War the Warsaw Pact had many more tanks than NATO. And when the attack began, there would be a race to reinforce the front line, to replace losses and to overwhelm weak defences. Warsaw Pact lines of communication were all overland, while NATO must rely on long, vulnerable air and sea bridges. To attack Warsaw Pact reinforcements, termed follow-on forces attack (FOFA), while they were still far from the front line required a weapon with long range, but with surgical accuracy. Tanks move, and their armour protection requires a direct hit with a lethal warhead to ensure a kill.

There ws no shortage of targets, and no possibility of confusion with friendly forces, but each weapon must be able to isolate, from other less vital targets, the tanks it has come to kill. Aircraft offered the most flexible, effective method of attacking targets deep in enemy territory. Flying low and fast, and making full use of electronic and lethal countermeasures, an aircraft can penetrate in all weathers. But tanks, however far from the front line, were not left undefended.

As the United States exited Vietnam in 1972 - 1973, the Group of Soviet Forces Germany had amassed thousands and thousands of modernized tanks, personnel carriers, artillery tubes and so forth. These forces were postured to attack in successive echelons, powerful echelons, where one echelon would attack, followed quickly by a second, followed quickly by a third. And the whole idea was to punch a hole in NATO defenses to allow large, mobile Operational Maneuver Groups (OMG) deep inside NATO territory to prevent them from using tactical nuclear weapons even if they wanted to.

NATO's initial response was a doctrine called “Active Defense.” The doctrine called for phased withdrawal in the face of these successive echelons, and NATO would use short-range guided munitions, primarily anti-tank munitions, to grind down Soviet echelons as they came into territory. But the sheer size of the armored echelons meant NATO units would probably run out ordinance before they could stop the OMG breaking into NATO's rear.

So in 1973 the Department of Defense launched the Long-Range Research and Development Planning Program (LRRDPP) to bolster conventional deterrence, to make sure that the Soviet military or general staff never felt comfortable ordering an attack. And in the end it recommended two choices. For a time it looked at either using more useful nuclear weapons, neutron bombs, smaller yield nuclear weapons. But instead it said it that won't work. When there was strategic nuclear parity in the use of nuclear weapons, it's too destabilizing, too likely to cause an escalatory climate with strategic nuclear weapons. So they chose instead to use conventional weapons with near zero miss capability.

Labeled “Emerging Technologies” at the time, they were integrated into a system-of-systems designed to strike Soviet follow-on echelons and prevent a breakthrough. These attacks combined far-ranging sensors like the TR-1, that peered sideways deep into Warsaw Pact territory, coupled with missiles and bombs that either scattered a lot of small sub-munitions that would attack armor from the top, or scattered mines in front of the Soviet armor as it pushed through.

AirLand Battle was the overall conceptual framework that formed the basis of the US Army's European warfighting doctrine from 1982 into the late 1990s. The Follow on Forces Attack sub-concept aimed to compensate for the short distance between Frankfurt, Germany, and Soviet territory by relying on conventional weapons to attack troops behind the main line of contact -- by attacking follow-on troops.

While all these technologies were being developed in DoD labs, both the United States and British militaries were coming to the conclusion that Active Defense simply would not work. There was a doctrinal revolution underway. British officers at Sandhurst War Studies Department and United States officers in various war colleges started to look at historical examples of maneuver and the importance of the operational level of war.

It led to the adoption of the U.S. Army AirLand Battle, which again, attacked the echelons deep combined with maneuver against the close-in fighting echelons to destroy the attack. And meanwhile, the British were absolutely instrumental in convincing NATO to adopt a conceptually aligned Follow On Forces Attack, or FOFA. Both of these doctrines were very offensive-minded, they were multi-service in character, multi-nation in character, and they were attempts to restore maneuver on the battlefield rather than static defense.

And by 1984 the head of the Soviet General Staff, Marshall Ogarkov, stated that the reconnaissance strike concept -- the Russian term for this combination of deep sensors and attacks -- could achieve the destructive effects of tactical nuclear weapons.

The United States had a demonstration in 1977 called Assault Breaker, and there were several other demonstrations of these technologies. And when NATO adopted both in 1984, there were actually few systems fielded that could execute the deep battle. But it didn't matter, because the Soviets, who were good at operational art, looked forward and could see the trends coming and they weren't good. So mere demonstrations of the concept was enough to bolster conventional deterrence. And as it turned out, these demonstrations led to real capabilities, and the Soviet Union later disappeared.

One approach appeared [to some] in 1983 to be exeeding expectations - the Wasp anti-armor mini-missile under development by Hughes Aircraft Missile Systems Group. Wasp grew out of the 1975 WAAM (Wide-Area Anti-Armour Munitions) Air Force program to develop a series of new air-to-ground anti-armor weapons. The three-pronged effort led to the CBU-92/B ERAM (Extended Range Anti-Armor Munition), the CBU-90/B ACM (Anti-Armor Cluster Munition), and the Wasp anti-armor missile.

Wasp was a 120-1b weapon designed to be carried in large numbers by F-16s, A-10s, and F-lllFs. Fired in swarms from underwing pods, the Wasp mini-missile would autonomously search for, acquire, and attack armored vehicles using an all-weather millimeter-wave radar seeker. Launched at low level from an aircraft out of sight of its target, the missiles fly a series of preprogrammed manoeuvres until they acquire the correct target, then dive to penetrate the tank's vulnerable top armor.

Wasp mini-missiles were carried in a 12-round launch pod, which also served as an environmentally sealed shipping and storage container. Shelf life was ten years, and the pod and the missiles it contained require no maintenance, only an external damage check before being loaded on to the aircraft. The pod weighed 2,0001b and fits a standard bomb-rack. An F-16 would carry two Wasp pods; an A-10 or F-lll, four. The missiles can be fired singly or in salvoes of up to 12, and the pods are jettisoned when empty.

Inside the pod were six 9inch diameter launch tubes. Two missiles were loaded one behind the other in each of these tubes. Rocket efflux from the forward missile is deflected towards the centre of the pod to protect the radome of the aft Wasp. Rapid sequential launch of the missiles requires that a second Wasp be fired before the first has cleared its tube. The firing sequence is therefore forward, adjacent forward, then aft, continuing round the pod. A sensor in the nose of each aft missile aborts launch should the forward Wasp remain in the tube.

The Wasp installation made maximum use of existing cockpit facilities, including stores control panel and weapon-release switches. The only essential is an aircraft inertial platform for waypoint navigation. The pod itself contains all launch control and reporting electronics.

The folding-fin missile was of traditional Hughes design, with delta wings ahead of rectangular cruciform control surfaces. The boost motor, a variant of that developed for the Tow anti-tank weapon, burned for 1.2 seconcs, just long enough to blast the missile clear of its launch tube. Ahead of the booster were two sustainer motors, which ignited when cruise velocity dropped below a minimum value required for effective seeker search.

Hughes reported the Wasp autopilot and radar seeker/signal processor have met or exceeded their performance requirements. The validation phase culminated in test firings of eight missiles from an F-16 aircraft in November 1982. On the very first demonstration of the WASP,, it proved less-than-brilliant. Programmed to fly down a column of 6 target tanks at the Eglin AFB target range, and attack only the 6th tank, it proved unable to count more than 5 targets in one pass, and went after a vehicle on a different part of the range.

Burton's book 'The Pentagon Wars' reports on pages 276-277 that after being launched from an F-4, the Wasp locked on to a first column of six tanks, but counted only five tanks. It then locked on to a second group of vehicles, where, again, it failed to count to six. It then turned... " ...and headed for a column of automobiles travelling along the civilian highway just outside the boundaries of the test range. Fortunately, the missile ran out of fuel and crashed before it could fly off the test range. Otherwise, some unsuspecting civilian motorist sitting sixth in line at the stoplight would have had a terrible day."

Initially, it was planned to begin mass production of rockets in 1987, but in October 1983 the Wasp program was terminated.

Length 1.52 m (5 ft)
Wingspan 51 cm (20 in)
Diameter 20 cm (8 in)
Weight 57 kg (125 lb)
Range 10 km (6.2 miles)
Propulsion Solid-fueled rocket motor
Warhead Shaped charge

AGM-124 Wasp AGM-124 Wasp

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