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AGM-87 Focus

Air-to-ground missile

AGM-87 Focus

The Focus was an interim air-to-ground missile based on the AIM-9B Sidewinder, which was used in the Vietnam War

Country of origin United States
Entered service Late 1960s
Missile length 2.83 m
Missile diameter 0.13 m
Fin span 0.56 m
Missile launch weight 70 kg
Warhead weight 4.5 kg
Warhead type HE-FRAG
Range of fire 4.8 km
Guidance Infrared homing


   The General Electric AGM-87 Focus was an air-to-ground missile based on the AIM-9B Sidewinder, which was used by the US armed forces during the Vietnam War. It was short-lived in service, though considered a success in combat.

   Little information has been published on the the development or operational service of the AGM-87 Focus. It was developed at the Naval Weapons Center (NWC) at China Lake in California, as a simple and inexpensive means by which to attack logistical heavy traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. How this transpired has apparently not been published, save that General Electric was ultimately contracted to make the conversion (not Raytheon, the Sidewinder's manufacturer).

   The AGM-87 Focus was virtually identical to the AIM-9B Sidewinder, differing only in adjustments made to its fuzing and guidance system, which allowed the Focus to more easily lock-up and destroy ground targets. While it is doubtful that the Sidewinder's infrared detector could lock onto body heat, it was found that it easily locked onto campfires, and even the headlights of cargo trucks, both of which were used extensively along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The 4.5 kg High Explosive Fragmentation (HE-FRAG) warhead used in the AIM-9B was more than adequate for the role, as the Ho Chi Minh Trail was typically devoid of hard targets like tanks and armored cars.

   It is also unclear exactly how many AGM-87 Focuses were produced, or when they were used, but all of them were expended in combat in Southeast Asia. Similarly, it is unclear why no additional missiles like this were ever produced, as the Focus was reportedly a success (although the USAF's determination to protect the AGM-65 Maverick program may have been a factor). As the test missiles were launched from UH-1 Iroquois helicopters, the Focus may have also been used operationally as a heliborne missile.

   Although there are currently no dedicated ground attack variants of the Sidewinder in service, the US military did nonetheless showcase a ground attack capability for the new AIM-9X. This suggests that rather than creating specialized variants for ground attack missions, standard Sidewinders may be used for this purpose.

   Nevertheless, the AGM-87 Focus was proof-of-concept for a mission that older Sidewinder models in service today could be converted to perform. Though with an abundance of purpose made air-to-ground missiles such as the AGM-65 Maverick and Brimstone, it is questionable whether another missile like the Focus will ever be developed.


Similar weapons


   AGM-122 Sidearm: Developed from the AIM-9C Sidewinder in later years, the Sidearm was a small anti-radiation missile that could be used by both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. Like the Focus, it was cheap, simply, highly successful in combat, and yet expended without replacement

   AIM-4 Falcon: While the Falcon was an air-to-air missile, its infrared guided versions were used in the same capacity as the Focus during the Vietnam War. Ironically, the Falcon was much more effective as an air-to-ground missile than as an air-to-air missile.

   AGM-65 Maverick: The Maverick is the closest weapon in concept to the AGM-87 Focus, though it is much longer and heavier, as well as a purpose made air-to-ground missile.



   Article by BLACKTAIL

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AGM-87 Focus

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AGM-87 Focus

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