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AGM-86C/D Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missile

The AGM-86C Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missile (CALCM) was developed to increase the effectiveness of B-52H bombers, dilute an enemy's forces, and complicate the defense of enemy territory. Congressional NDAA language directed sustainmetn of the Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missile (CALCM) until the Air Force retired both the ALCM and CALCM concurrently. Sustaining the CALCM, slated for retirement in FY15, would drive a significant bill. As of 2017 both remained in service. The USAF planned to replace CALCM with the modern Joint Air to Surface Stand-off Missile Extended Range (JASSM-ER) until the future conventional version of LRSO is available.

CALCM is the only air-launched, conventionally armed, long-range standoff missile deployed in the U.S. Air Force inventory. It is produced by modifying surplus nuclear-armed AGM-86Bs (ALCMs). It features a high-explosive blast-fragmentation warhead and a GPS receiver for accurate GPS-aided inertial navigation. Launched from B-52H aircraft, CALCM provides the U.S. Air Force with an economical, rapid response, worldwide conventional strike capability; this makes it a cost- effective choice for additional system upgrades and new mission applications. Boeing is making the conversions at its Weapons Programs center in St. Charles, Mo.

The small, winged AGM-86C CALCM 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 the use of an onboard Global Positioning System (GPS) coupled with its Inertial Navigation System (INS). This allows the missile to guide itself to the target with pinpoint accuracy.

The AGM-86C CALCM increases the Air Force's flexibility in target selection. The B-52H is capable of carrying six CALCMs on each of two externally mounted pylons and eight internally on a rotary launcher, giving the B-52H a maximum capacity of 20 CALCMs per aircraft. The AGM-86C CALCM differs from the AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) in that it carries a conventional blast/frag payload rather than a nuclear payload and employs a GPS aided INS.

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 missile's small size and low-altitude flight capability, which also 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 ALCM, 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 ALCM, which greatly enhanced the B-52's capabilities and helped America maintain a strategic deterrent. Production of the initial 225 AGM-86B ALCMs began in fiscal year 1980 and production of a total 1,715 missiles was completed in October 1986. The ALCM became operational four years earlier, in December 1982, with the 416th Bombardment Wing at Griffiss Air Force Base, NY, which deactivated when the base closed in 1995.

In June 1986, a limited number of AGM-86B ALCMs were converted to carry a high-explosive blast/fragmentation warhead and an internal GPS. They were redesignated as the AGM-86C CALCM. This modification replaced the AGM-86B ALCM's terrain contour-matching guidance system and integrated a GPS with the existing INS. This ALCM to CALCM modification program was conducted under under classified contract F34601-91-C-1156, which delivered the last lot of AGM-86C's to the Air Force in June 1993.

The CALCM became operational in January 1991 at the onset of Operation DESERT STORM. Seven B-52Hs carrying a total of 39 CALCMs flew nonstop round-trip from Barksdale AFB, LA to designated launch points in the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility. At these points, 35 missiles were launched to attack 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).

CALCM was subsequently employmd on 3 September 1996 in Operation DESERT STRIKE. In response to Iraq's continued hostilities against the Kurds in northern Iraq, the Air Force launched 13 CALCMs in a joint attack with the Navy. This mission put the CALCM program in the spotlight and helped propel the research and development of a multiple warhead penetrator version of the CALCM called the AGM-86D (Block II). CALCM was employed in December 1998 in Operation DESERT FOX. A total of $52 million was requested in the FY2000 budget to pay to replace the 90 conventional air-launched cruise missiles, plus two test missiles, fired against Iraqi forces during Desert Fox. During Operation Allied Force, CALCMs were delivered by B-52s operating from forward bases in England.

In the 4-day Operation Desert Fox attack on Iraq in December 1998, the United States used 90 conventional air-launched cruise missiles. When NATO bombing of Serbia began, the military fired between 30 and 50 air-launched cruise missiles targeted primarily against Serbian air defenses. By mid-April 1999 there were 90 to 100 conventional air-launched cruise missiles in inventory.

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Page last modified: 05-02-2018 13:18:27 ZULU