Country of origin
Missile launch weight
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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
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
UH-1 Iroquois helicopters, the Focus may have also been used
operationally as a heliborne missile.
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
is questionable whether another missile like the Focus will ever be
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
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.
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