Air Force mulls Maverick
Raytheon says newer, laser-guided version of combat-proven missile could meet the need for a precision-strike weapon
By Jack Gillum
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 08.22.2007
Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems says the U.S. Air Force is interested in using the company's laser-guided Maverick missile to fill a need for precision-guided weapons.
The Maverick AGM-65E air-to-surface missile, currently used by the Navy and Marine Corps, has a relatively small warhead and laser guidance that helps limit collateral damage when striking targets.
The Air Force currently uses earlier, television- and infrared-guided versions of the Maverick, which was first used in Southeast Asia more than 30 years ago.
The Air Force has said it has "an urgent operational need for a close air support weapon to defeat high-speed moving targets with minimal collateral damage," and has "expressed interest in re-establishing production" of the laser-guided Maverick, Raytheon said.
"Maverick has proved itself over many years of service to be a very versatile weapon system, and the newest laser version will significantly enhance the Air Force's precision capability required to save lives in close combat and quick-reaction situations," Harry Schulte, Raytheon Missile Systems vice president of strike products, said in a prepared statement.
To give Air Force aircraft that capability quickly, the Navy has agreed to transfer some of its inventory of laser-guided Mavericks to the Air Force, Schulte said.
Air Force officials could not be reached for comment.
Ramping up production of the laser-guided Maverick could have long-term implications for Raytheon, perhaps allowing the company to not only produce Mavericks but to develop future surface-attack weapons for the Air Force, said Paul Nisbet, a financial analyst and principal in Newport, R.I.-based JSA Research Inc.
Besides the Maverick, other missiles made by Raytheon Missile Systems include the Navy's Tomahawk cruise missile, the Standard Missile series of ship-defense weapons, the Javelin portable anti-tank missile, the Sidewinder air-to-air missile and the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile.
Raytheon said the laser-guided Maverick would help the Air Force provide close-air support for fighters in urban settings, the company said. Raytheon produced components for the Air Force's TV-based Mavericks under a $49.5 million contract ending in 2005.
Carried by Air Force A-10, F-15E and F-16 aircraft, Mavericks range in cost from $17,000 to $110,000 each, depending on the version, according to the Air Force.
A military analyst said the Maverick's laser-guided precision could help reduce collateral damage in settings such as Iraq.
"It's a small but important element in putting a lid on the violence" in Iraq, said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org in Alexandria, Va.
Such weapons can send the message to fighters that they "cannot operate with impunity because they cannot use the civilian population as human shields," Pike said.
The transfer of Navy Mavericks, Pike said, allows the Air Force to get "something into the fight this summer" in Iraq, while also "retaining some elements of competitive procurement" for future bids.
In 2005, Raytheon was awarded a $5.3 million U.S. Air Force contract option to conduct an evaluation of the Lock-On-After-Launch, or LOAL, version of the Maverick.
The LOAL Maverick uses satellite data and radio links to allow pilots to retarget missiles in flight for more precise attacks at greater range.
Raytheon said in February 2006 that it had completed test flights of the LOAL Maverick at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, but there has been no word since on that program.
Raytheon Missile Systems is Southern Arizona's biggest employer, with more than 11,000 full-time workers at the end of 2006, according to the Star 200 survey of major employers.