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BGM-109G Gryphon

Cruise missile

BGM-109G Gryphon

Also called the Ground Launched Cruise Missile, the short-lived BGM-109G Gryphon was the USAF's version of the ubiquitois BGM-109A Tomahawk

 
 
Country of origin United States
Entered service 1983
Crew 3 men
Launch trailer dimensions and weight
Number of missiles 4
Weight 36 t
Length 19.8 m
Width 2.44 m
Height ~ 3 m
Missile
Missile length (without booster) 5.56 m
Missile diameter 0.52 m
Missile launch weight 1 200 kg
Warhead weight 176 kg
Warhead type Nuclear, 150 kT yield
Range of fire 2 500 km
CEP ~ 30 m
Mobility
Engine MAN D2866 KFG diesel
Engine power 360 hp
Maximum road speed 80 - 90 km/h
Range ~ 800 km
Maneuverability
Gradient (with trailer) ~ 20%
Side slope ?
Vertical step ?
Trench ?
Fording ~ 1.2 m

 

   The BGM-109G Gryphon was a cruise missile operated by the US Air Force (USAF) during the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was essentially a ground-launched BGM-109A Tomahawk, and was also designated as the Ground Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM), sometimes awkwardly referred-to as "Glickum". Fortunately, the Gryphon has never been launched in anger, nor with a live nuclear warhead.

   The Gryphon is the product of the GLCM program, initiated by the USAF in 1971 as an effort to develop a replacement for the obsolete MGM-13 Mace cruise missile. The new weapon envisioned would be able to carry a nuclear warhead out to a range exceeding 2 000 km, using an economical small turbofan engine and Terrain Contour Matching (TERCOM) guidance. Development work moved slowly over the next several years, likely owing to a strong institutional bias against cruise missiles in the USAF (see the pages on the Tomahawk and the AGM-86A ALCM for further context), but matters changed quickly in 1976, with the entry of the RSD-10 Pioneer (Western designation SS-20 Saber) Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) into service with the Soviet forces in Europe. The Pioneer missile represented a serious complication for NATO's nuclear strategy, as it allowed Soviet forces to rapidly strike any NATO military installation in Europe using road-mobile launchers, from the relative safety of rear areas inside the Soviet Union. Under intense political pressure from West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in January of 1977, the US government in turn committed itself to counter to the new IRBM threat.

   Though behind the scenes, these events were driven by political intrigue that had very little to do with NATO defense. This wasn't Chancellor Schmidt's "first rodeo" with the US government in this capacity, as he had just prior agreed to purchase the E-3 Sentry airborne early warning aircraft (whose purpose at that time was to be an early warning system for Soviet IRBM launches, not as an airborne C3I system) for the Luftwaffe, only if the US government had committed itself to arming the M1 Abrams tank with a 120 mm gun using the same ammunition as the Leopard 2 tank (which ultimately resulted in the creation of the M1A1 Abrams).

   Military politics were involved as well. The USAF until this time saw the US Navy's Sea Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM), which became the BGM-109 Tomahawk) program only as unwanted competition for their share of the nuclear budget, and preferred to have the AGM-86 for the ALCM program then in development. However, the SLCM was the only mature surface-launchable cruise missile available to meet the GLCM requirement. The GLCM was also part of a bureaucratic turf war with the US Army, over who would control the land-based intermediate-range nuclear arena, with the Army's competing weapon being the MGM-31C Pershing 2 IRBM. While the USAF in the GLCM offered Congress a weapon that was promised to slip nuclear warheads under the enemy's radar and air defenses, the Army's Pershing 2 was claimed to be so fast the enemy wouldn't have time to react before it hit them. Neither faction ended up overthrowing the other as intended in this arena, as Congress ultimately decided to buy several-hundred of each weapon.

   An even deeper layer of intrigue was an ongoing series of negotiations between the US and the USSR over the possibility of eliminating all of both nation's land-based intermediate-range nuclear warhead delivery systems. Dubbed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) talks, this dialogue had taken place since mid-1979, and offered a "Zero Option" that --- if taken by both sides --- would significantly ease tensions between East and West, and also eliminate the intractable problem of how to counter and fend-off the IRBM threat. However, the West was deeply divided over whether or not to deploy new intermediate-range nuclear weapons before an INF Treaty could be created. The "Hawks" on the matter insisted that no matter what the outcome of the negotiations, the US military had to show its commitment to NATO and its resolve by deploying the GLCM and Pershing 2 first, while the "Doves" countered that doing so might provoke the USSR into abandoning the INF talks, and that if they don't, the new weapons would have to be retired and destroyed within a few years (or possibly months) of finally being deployed. As the talks continued, so did the development of the GLCM and the Pershing 2.

   Despite the claimed urgency of the threat, work on the GLCM proceeded slowly (especially in light of the relative maturity of the Tomahawk). The first launch from a trailer took place in May of 1980, and training for GLCM personnel began at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona on July 1st 1981 with the re-activation of the 868th Tactical Missile Training Squadron, though developmental testing was still incomplete, and operational testing still hadn't begun. The first guided launch of a GLCM took place in February of 1982, while operational testing finally began in May of 1982, with the final developmental flight being conducted on June 27th 1983; later that year, initial operational capacity was declared by the USAF, and at some point the GLCM was officially re-designated as the BGM-109G Gryphon. Despite the fact that the Gryphon still wasn't yet operable at the time, foreign deployments began in 1982.

   In both form and function, the Gryphon is essentially the same as the Tomahawk, with the same layout and performance. As with the BGM-109A Tomahawk, the Gryphon was guided by terrain following radar, using terrain contour matching technology. For further details on appearance, composition, propulsion, performance, and guidance, see the Tomahawk page.

   Interestingly, though the Gryphon was launched from a trailer in the field, largely as part of US Army operations, the vehicles and missiles were owned and crewed by the USAF. The tractor vehicle normally used to pull the launcher trailer was an M1001 (US version of the German MAN KAT 1 8x8 heavy truck).

   While the ubiquitous Tomahawk employed a wide range of warheads, the Gryphon had only one; the W84. This was a thermonuclear warhead with a variable yield; it could be "dialed-down" to produce a blast as tiny as only 0.2 kT, or one a colossal as 150 kT. It is unknown if the BGM-109G Gryphon was ever meant to have a conventionally-armed version, but none was ever fielded.

   The BGM-109G Gryphon was mired in controversy since its inception, and it attracted a wide range of opposition during the 1980s. In addition to the regular crowd of peace activists and promoters of nuclear disarmament, the driving forces behind the creation and deployment of the Gryphon also had to contend with countless thousands of irate European locals, who were less than thrilled at being "protected" by nearby nuclear missile launchers (meaning that in the event of an accident with a Gryphon missile, or a Warsaw Pact nuclear attack on the launch sites, the adjacent population would likely suffer a terrible death toll), and protests hounded the Gryphon’s European deployments through the remainder of their tenure. There were also separate political factions in both the East and West that advocated the elimination of all land-based intermediate-range nuclear weapons, and an ongoing process of negotiating the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty to eliminate all of these weapons, which included the Gryphon. The US Military Reform Movement opposed the Gryphon simply because the US military's own documentation put the reliability and functionality of the missile in doubt (details of these problems are described at length on the BGM-109 Tomahawk page), though little press attention was paid to the question of whether or not the Gryphon was a "Paper Tiger".

   A total of seven USAF formations were equipped with the BGM-109G Gryphon. These were the 868th Tactical Missile Training Group (TMTG) at Davis-Monthan air force base in Arizona (since 1982), the 501st Tactical Missile Wing (TMW) at Royal Air Force's Greenham Common in the UK (since July 1982), the 487th TMW at Comiso air base in Italy (since June 1983), the 485th TMW at Florennes air base in Belgium (since August 1984), the 38th TMW at Wueschheim air base in West Germany (since April 1985), the 303rd TMW at Royal Air Force's Molesworth in the UK (since December 1986), and the 486th TMW at Woensdrecht air base in the Netherlands (since August 1987).

   Ultimately, the predictions of the pundits came true, and the deployment of the GLCM and Pershing 2 did in fact provoke the Soviet Union into abandoning the INF talks in November of 1983. The US government was accused of trying to pull a "bait and switch", as the Soviet officials stormed out of negotiations --- though few tears were shed by the US military as they gained prestige from their latest political victory, defense industry as they profited from it, nor by their Soviet counterparts who had a new "threat" to fuel their own private agendas. In short, rather than achieving the promise to making the West safer, the contribution of the GLCM and Pershing 2 was instead to preserve the threat posed by the RSD-10 Pioner missiles, shift their aim increasingly more toward the densely-populated areas where GLCM and Pershing 2 were located, and set back East-West nuclear relations by almost a decade.

   INF negotiations finally recommenced in March of 1985, after British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet managed to convince both parties to return to the bargaining table. These discussions proved more fruitful, as indicated by the Soviet Army's withdrawal of three of its nine RSD-10 Pioner squadrons deployed to Eastern Europe, though promoters of the GLCM and Pershing 2 were quick to declare that the USSR was creating a ruse (as seen in the September 26th 1985 Times article, "Soviet Missile Trick Suspected"). Though by the September of 1987, the fabled "Zero Option" was finally agreed upon, and the INF Treaty was formally signed by both the US and Soviet governments on December 8th 1987. The withdrawal from service and subsequent destruction of all affected US and Soviet weapons slowly followed, and by the early 1990s, no ground-launched intermediate-range nuclear weapons remained in either nation's inventory --- including the BGM-109G Gryphon.

   The Gryphon's withdrawal from Europe (and soon after from active service) began in 1988, with the last missile being destroyed or permanently disabled by 1991. Only 8 Gryphon’s were retained, only for display purposes, and these are no longer operable. At present, the W84 warhead inventory is inactive and in storage. While they could be reactivated, it is doubtful that they would be of much use as far as the Tomahawk missile series is concerned, as no surviving models are configured to carry a nuclear warhead.

   While a BGM-109 variant launched from a TEL trailer or vehicle still has tremendous military potential even today, it is no longer feasible given the US government's commitment to the INF Treaty; not even for such missiles armed with conventional weapons, given the Gryphon's natural potential for delivering a nuclear warhead.

   This may not be the end of the Gryphon's story however, as Russia and the US have both openly accused one another of violation the INF Treaty in recent years. If the matter sours further, ground-launched weapons like the GLCM may yet find their way back into the US inventory.

 

Similar weapons

 

   BGM-109A Tomahawk: This missile is virtually identical to the BGM-109 Gryphon, apart from being launched from surface ships and submarines rather than a land-based trailer, and carrying a different model of nuclear warhead.

   AGM-86B ALCM: A contemporary USAF nuclear-tipped cruise missile, the ALCM (Air Launched Cruise Missile) was the airborne counterpart of the Gryphon. Given interservice politics at the time, it is probable that if the USAF could have found some way to launch the ALCM from the ground ("BGM-86B Gryphon"?), they would not have acquired a variant of the Navy's competing Tomahawk missile. See the articles on the ALCM and Tomahawk for further insight.

   RK-55 Relief: This missile was the Soviet counterpart of the BGM-109G Gryphon, and was launched from an 8x8 TEL vehicle. It could carry a nuclear warhead just like the Gryphon, but conventionally-armed examples were fielded as well. Production of the RK-55 Relief had only just begun when the INF Treaty was ratified, so only 80 missiles were completed, none of which were deployed by the time of their destruction in compliance with the treaty. The Relief was designated SSC-X-4 Slingshot by the West.

   S-10 Granat: This is a Soviet submarine-launched cruise missile. While the Gryphon had a counterpart launched from submarines, so did the RK-55 Relief, in the form of the S-10 (code-named SS-N-21 Sampson by the West). As naval missiles were not subject to the INF Treaty, the S-10 remained in production, development, and operational service, and it is still used by the Russian Navy as of 2017.

  9M728 (Western reporting name SSC-7) and 9M729 (SSC-8): These are new Russian cruise missiles based on the S-10, which were first deployed in 2017. These missiles are used by Iskander-K system. These missiles are believed to have a range of around 1 500 km, which sparked accusations by the US government that Russia had violated the INF Treaty --- though Russia retorted that because the US had previously deployed Mk.41 VLS launchers as part of the "Aegis Ashore" system in Eastern Europe (which can launch BGM-109 Tomahawks), Washington D.C. had effectively dissolved the treaty.

   Kh-55: Code-named AS-15 Kent by the West, the Kh-55 is an air-launched cruise missile very similar in design to the RK-55 (in fact, Western intelligence and news sources had mistakenly assumed for some time that the Kh-55 was directly derived from the RK-55). There are both conventionally-armed and nuclear versions of this missile.

   Soumar: Unlicensed copy of the Kh-55 manufactured by Iran. Unlike the original Kh-55, the Soumar is ground-launched.

   Meshkat: This is a more recent Iranian missile based on the Kh-55, which is believed to have increased range over the Soumar.

   Babur: First entering service with the Pakistani armed forces in 2005, the Babur is uncannily similar to the Gryphon (it is even carried on a trailer with four launch containers), though it has a much shorter range, and both conventional and nuclear warheads. A naval version for use in Pakistani submarines is also under development. A ground-launched version of the Babur-III has a 450 km range.

   Nirbhay: This weapon is India's answer to the Babur, boasting a longer range and higher flight speed, though it is problematic and protracted development has so far precluded operational service.

   Hyunmoo 3: Extremely similar in design to the Gryphon and the Tomahawk, the South Korean Hyunmoo 3 is only armed with a conventional warhead, and has a shorter range. There are air-launched, surface-launched, and submarine-launched versions of this missile.

 

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BGM-109G Gryphon

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