In this album are the nuclear-armed, air-launched missiles not covered in the other albums in this section of the Gallery. These include the Bullpup, Falcon, Genie, Rascal, Skybolt, and the planned replacement for the ALCM: the Long Range Standoff (LRSO) missile. Also covered are some of the squadrons whose personnel maintained these weapons, and a few flying squadrons whose patches depicted the missiles or images alluding to them. You’ll see Dennis the Menace riding a Falcon AIM-4, the USAF’s first operational guided air-to-air missile, and several versions of the patch for the nuclear-armed version, the AIM-26 Falcon. The GAM-63 Rascal was the USAF’s first nuclear-armed standoff missile, and the GAM-87 Skybolt was designed to carry the same warhead as was deployed on Minuteman II missiles. There are quite a few patches pertaining to the MB-1/AIR-2 supersonic Genie missile, which we also deployed in Canada, supported by USAF personnel stationed at Canadian Forces fighter bases. Patches pertaining to more than one missile (e.g., both ALCM and ACM) are here also, as well as systems that were used in conjunction with them (i.e., the Common Strategic Rotary Launcher (CSRL). Finally, there are a number of LOADING patches specifying the positions of those wearing them for which we could use more information.
Produced in 1985, the AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile (ACM) was a low-observable (stealthy), subsonic, turbofan-powered, air-launched cruise missile originally designed and built by General Dynamics. The ACM was only an inch longer than the ALCM but about 550 pounds heavier, and its range was significantly greater than the ALCM’s. Like the ALCM, it carried a thermonuclear warhead. This missile was carried exclusively by B-52H Stratofortress bombers. Each one could carry up to six AGM-129A missiles on each of two external pylons for a total of 12 per aircraft. Originally, an additional 8 ACMs could be carried internally on the Common Strategic Rotary Launcher, for a total of 20 per aircraft. The B-1B bomber was also slated to carry the AGM-129A, but that plan ended when the Cold War did. The first test missile flew in July 1985. The first production missiles were delivered to the USAF in 1987 and the ACM entered service in June 1990. Initially, plans called for producing enough missiles to replace the approximately 1,461 AGM-86B ALCMs at a rate of 200 missiles per year after full-rate production was achieved in 1993, but in January 1992 the end of the Cold War resulted in a major cutback in total ACM procurement. The President determined that only 640 missiles were needed. Later, that number was reduced to just 460. In August 1992, General Dynamics sold its missile business to Hughes Aircraft Corporation, and five years later Hughes sold its aerospace and defense business to the final production contractor, Raytheon. Reductions in nuclear weapons mandated by the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) requirement to get below 2,200 deployed nuclear weapons by 2012 resulted in the 2007 decision to retire the entire inventory of ACMs because of the missile’s reliability issues and higher maintenance costs. The last missile was destroyed in April 2012.
The AGM-86 Air Launch Cruise Missile (ALCM) is a subsonic weapon built by Boeing for the USAF. This missile was developed to increase the effectiveness and survivability of the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. The first example flew for the first time in March 1976, less than a year after retirement of the last Hound Dog missile, which the ALCM replaced. In January 1977, the missile was ordered into full-scale production. Compared to the models that entered service in the 1980s, the A-model had a distinctive look; the nose tapered sharply to a triangular point giving it a shark-like appearance, compared to the later models which had a more rounded conventional appearance. Production of the initial 225 AGM-86B missiles began in FY 1980. It entered operational use on the B-52H in August 1981 and became its primary weapon in December 1982. Production of a total 1,715 missiles was completed in October 1986. B-52H bombers can carry six AGM-86B or AGM-86C missiles on each of two externally mounted pylons and eight internally on a rotary launcher, giving the bomber a maximum capacity of 20 missiles per aircraft. The nuclear armed AGM-86B uses a terrain contour-matching guidance system (TERCOM) to fly to its assigned target. The missile’s range is classified, but it is about 21 feet long (half the length of the Hound Dog) and weighs a little over 3,000 pounds. In 2007 the USAF announced its intention to reduce the ALCM fleet by more than 500 missiles, leaving 528 nuclear cruise missiles. The ALCM force consists of B-52s based at Minot AFB, ND and Barksdale AFB, LA. Even with the Service Life Extension Program (SLEP), the remaining AGM-86s were to reach their end of service by 2020, leaving the B-52 without a nuclear missile. However, in 2012, the USAF announced plans to extend the useful life of the missiles until at least 2030. The projected replacement for the ALCM is the new Long-Range Stand-Off (LRSO) weapon, now in development.
The Boeing AGM-69 Short Range Attack Missile (SRAM) was a nuclear-armed, supersonic (Mach 3), air-to-surface missile. It had an operational range of about 60-120 miles and, like its predecessor, the Hound Dog missile, was intended to enable USAF bombers to penetrate enemy airspace by neutralizing surface-to-air missile defenses. Unlike the Hound Dog however, the SRAM was so much smaller that more than just two could be carried, allowing a single bomber to take out multiple defensive sites, unassisted by other aircraft, and deliver its primary weapons on its assigned target(s). The SRAM entered service in 1972, before all Hound Dogs were retired, and was carried by a number of aircraft, including the B-52, FB-111A, and B-1. A new weapon, the AGM-131 SRAM II, designed specifically for the B-1B, began development in 1981 with a planned IOC of 1993. Also, the SRAM II air vehicle was the basis for a tactical nuclear variant, the SRAM T, which employed a different warhead with a selectable yield. It had a longer range than the baseline SRAM II, around 250 miles. As a NATO theater nuclear weapon, SRAM-T was to be carried by the F-15E and F-111, but it was also compatible with the F-16 and the Tornado. Deployment of SRAM-T was planned for 1995. Both SRAM II and SRAM-T were canceled in September 1991 by President George H.W. Bush, along with most of the U.S. Strategic Modernization effort (including Peacekeeper Rail-Garrison, the Small ICBM, and a Minuteman III modernization program), in an effort by the U.S. to ease nuclear pressure on the disintegrating Soviet Union. The SRAM was removed from service in 1993, by which time its mission was rendered obsolete by the introduction of the AGM-86 ALCM, which carried a more powerful warhead and could be launched from far outside the range of enemy weapons–meaning bombers no longer needed to penetrate air defenses and could be used as stand-off platforms for weapons deployment.