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AGM-86C CALCM

Air-launched cruise missile

AGM-86C CALCM cruise missile

The CALCM is the conventionally-armed version of the AGM-86 ALCM

 
 
Country of origin United States
Entered service ~ 1987
Missile
Missile length 6.32 m
Missile diameter 0.62 m
Wing span 3.66 m
Missile weight 1 950 kg
Warhead type Bullpup, HE-FRAG or HE penetrator
Warhead weight 680 kg (Bullpup), 1 450 kg (HE-FRAG), 540 kg (HE penetrator)
Speed 800 km/h
Range of fire 1 200 km
CEP 3 m
Guidance TFR, INS and GPS
Launch platform B-52G/H bombers

 

   Developed from the AGM-86B ALCM, the AGM-86C CALCM (Conventional Air Launch Cruise Missile) is designed to discreetly destroy individual high-value targets from a stand-off distance. It is almost indistinguishable on its exterior from the ALCM, which is no accident; every CALCM was converted from retired ALCMs, rather than built new.

   The USAF's interest in a conventionally-armed ALCM originated in 1986, from combat experience gained during the air strikes on Libya in Operation El Dorado Canyon. It was quite clear from the results of that mission not only that an air-launched cruise missile with a conventional warhead would be an extremely valuable addition to the US Air Force (USAF) arsenal. Moreover, it was also becoming increasingly obvious that the odds of a nuclear-tipped missile being required in any foreseeable combat operation were slim at best, while the US military would benefit from conventionally-armed missiles in any potential conflict.

   Work began later in 1986 to begin converting AGM-86Bs to carry conventional warheads, and modify their guidance system for a direct ramming attack on the target (the AGM-86B ALCM is designed to fly *near* the target, and detonate in mid-air). The accuracy required by this mission resulted in the addition of GPS into the guidance system, and the conventional warhead for the modified missile was significantly larger and heavier than the original W80 thermonuclear warhead; as a result, the fuel capacity had to be significantly reduced to compensate, shortening the range of the missile. Flight testing of the resulting AGM-86C CALCM was initiated in 1987, though by then the conversions were already being made.

   The CALCM was a secret program during the 1980s, to the extent that they were euphemistically designated as XLRBs ("Extra Long Range Bombs"). Aircrews jokingly referred to the missiles as "Secret Squirrels", after the cartoon character of that name. It wasn't until 1992 that the AGM-86C CALCM was finally declassified, by which time they had already been used in combat during Operation Desert Storm.

   Ultimately, four different models of the CALCM were fielded; the original AGM-86C Block 0 in 1986, AGM-86C Block I in 1996, the AGM-86C Block IA in 2000, and the AGM-86D Block II in 2002. An AGM-86E Block III has also been proposed in the early 2000s, but it does not appear to have entered production.

   The appearance, and propulsion are identical to that of the AGM-86B ALCM; see the page on that missile for further details.

   As with the ALCM, the only aircraft capable of carrying the CALCM are the B-52G and B-52H. A total of 20 may be carried, 8 on a rotating launch rack in the internal bay, and 12 on external pylons.

   Guidance for the CALCM is largely the same as that of the ALCM, but with the addition of a GPS system to further enhance its accuracy. Reputedly, the CALCM has a CEP (Circular Error Probable) of 3 m, though this only means that half of a flight of missiles will land within 3 m of one another (in other words, the guidance is very precise, but not necessarily accurate). Similar guidance problems encountered with the BGM-109 Tomahawk almost certainly apply as well, as the CALCM has the same guidance radar and computers. Nonetheless, CALCMs have proven able to hit point targets in several conflicts.

   Three different types of warheads have been employed in the CALCM. The AGM-86C Block 0 carried a 680 kg AFX-760 HE-FRAG warhead; referred to as a "Bullpup" warhead, this is a directional shrapnel munition that fires thousands of steel ball bearings downward in a wide fan, essentially turning the CALCM into a giant flying claymore mine. Bullpup warheads are extremely effective against "soft" targets (radar sites, parked aircraft, fuel silos, and so on), but much less so against "hard" targets (armored vehicles, hardened aircraft shelters, bunkers, etc.). The AGM-86C Block I and Block IA were re-armed with a more conventional 1 450 kg PBXN-111 HE-FRAG warhead. Thanks to a more powerful polymer-based explosive in a much larger quantity and a much wider fragmentation pattern, the PBXN-111 warhead is effective against a wider range of targets, including some hard targets.

   The AGM-86D is armed with an AUP-3M 540 kg HE penetrator warhead. The design of the AUP-3M emphasizes blast force rather than fragmentation, and its hardened casing allows a diving AGM-86D to drive it deep underground before exploding, even through layers of solid material such as metal, stone, or concrete. This gives the AGM-86D the ability to destroy hardened underground facilities (though not at great depths, as the CALCM is only a subsonic weapon), and virtually any individual surface target.

   However, as mentioned above, the CALCM is significantly heavier than the ALCM, and has a smaller fuel capacity as a consequence of the much larger volume occupied by the conventional warhead. Thus the decreased fuel load and increased workload on the engine had roughly cut the range in half, to 1 200 km, though this is still an exceptionally long range for an air-launched, conventionally-armed missile.

   The first combat use of the CALCM was during the "Round Robin" missions supporting Operation Desert Storm in 1991, flown by seven B-52s carrying 39 missiles. These were at the time the longest and farthest combat missions ever flown, covering more than 22 000 km over some 35 hours of continuous flight, supported by many aerial refuellings. Flying to a series of designated launch points, these seven aircraft launched 35 missiles into Iraq, destroying a number of high-value targets, and catching the Iraqi military off-guard. Another 13 CALCMs were launched in 1996, in support of Operation Desert Strike, in a joint USAF-Navy mission that also includes BGM-109 Tomahawk missiles launched from ships and submarines; however, several CALCMs went off-course, and some that successfully hit their targets caused no damage, due to the hardened structures of the facilities hit. The CALCM was used in combat again only 3 years later, in Operation Desert Fox, during which 90 (more than in all previous operations combined) were launched into Iraq. More than 100 AGM-86C CALCMs and BGM-109 Tomahawk missiles were launched against targets in Kosovo in 1999, in support of Operation Allied Force, though the exact numbers of each are uncertain.

   More CALCMs were launched in combat during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq than in any other conflict to date --- a total of 153. The most dramatic moment in the CALCM's career came on the night of March 21st 2003, three B-52s fired the first shots of Operation Iraqi Freedom, when they launched more than 100 CALCMs in a matter of minutes, in what was possibly the most devastating air strike in history. More importantly, this attack also validated the argument made for the original ALCM in the 1970s; that a single, small flight of B-52s could almost simultaneously launch more than 100 cruise missiles deep into enemy territory, without ever coming within range of their defenses.

   By 2013, a total of 622 ALCMs had been converted into CALCMs, though almost a third of these have been expended in combat. Each conversion cost approximately $150 000, in addition to the unit cost of an AGM-86B ALCM. It is possible that more ALCMs will be converted into CALCMs in the immediate future, but this is becoming increasingly unlikely due to the weapon's age, and the unavailability of a successor to either weapon. Both the ALCM and CALCM are to be replaced by a new cruise missile under the LRSO program, but even the design of this weapon has not yet been finalized, and the future of the program is still uncertain.

   The USAF remains the sole operator if the AGM-86C/D CALCM, and due to the weapon's origins as a delivery system for nuclear warheads, it is very unlikely to proliferate.

 

Variants

 

   AGM-86C CALCM Block 0: First production model, equipped with a 1st generation GPS, and a 680 kg AFX-760 HE-FRAG warhead. 105 were converted.

   AGM-86C CALCM Block I: Upgraded Block 0 missile with a 2nd generation GPS, and a 1 450 kg PBXN-111 HE-FRAG warhead. 200 were converted.

   AGM-86C CALCM Block IA: Upgraded Block I missile with a 3rd generation GPS, improved electronic counter measures, and new diving attack profile. 163 were converted.

   AGM-86D CALCM Block II: Has further improved electronic counter measures and attack profile, and a new AUP-3M 540 kg HE penetrator warhead. It can destroy hardened underground facilities , though not at great depths. A total of 130 were planned, with an option for up to 195, but only 50 conversions were made.

   AGM-86E CALCM-ER Block III: Loner-range version of the AGM-86D, developed for the USAF's ERCM (Extended Range Cruise Missile) program. None have been built, and the program appears to be in limbo.

 

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AGM-86C CALCM cruise missile

AGM-86C CALCM cruise missile

AGM-86C CALCM cruise missile

AGM-86C CALCM cruise missile

AGM-86C CALCM cruise missile


 
AGM-86C CALCM cruise missile

AGM-86C CALCM cruise missile

AGM-86C CALCM cruise missile

AGM-86C CALCM cruise missile

AGM-86C CALCM cruise missile

AGM-86C CALCM cruise missile

AGM-86C CALCM cruise missile

AGM-86C CALCM cruise missile

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