February 21, 2001: B-52H AGM-86D Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missile Testing

  • Published
  • 419th Flight Test Squadron

The 419th Flight Test Squadron completed the B-52H AGM-86D Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missile penetrator integration flight test program, conducting an 18-hour endurance flight on this day. All told, testing had consisted of three days of ground testing, four captive carry sorties, and two live-launch demonstrations. A total of 47 hours flying time were accumulated, beginning in early October 2001. The overall performance of the B-52H Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missile weapon system was rated “satisfactory,” with three of the four rated objectives receiving a “satisfactory” rating.

The  AGM-86 is an American subsonic air-launched cruise missile built by Boeing and operated by the United States Air Force. This missile was developed to increase the effectiveness and survivability of the Boeing B-52H Stratofortress strategic bomber. The missile dilutes an enemy's forces and complicates air defense of its territory.  The concept started as a long-range drone aircraft that would act as a decoy, distracting Soviet air defenses from the bombers. As new lightweight nuclear weapons emerged in the 1960s, the design was modified with the intent of attacking missile and radar sites at the end of its flight. Further development extended its range so much that it emerged as a weapon allowing the B-52s to launch their attacks while still well outside Soviet airspace, saturating their defenses with hundreds of tiny, low-flying targets that were extremely difficult to see on radar.  The ALCM so improved the capabilities of the US bomber force that the Soviets developed new technologies to counter the weapon. Among these were airborne early warning aircraft and new weapons like the MiG-31 and Tor missile system specifically to shoot down the AGM-86.  The Air Force responded with the development of the AGM-129 ALCM, which included stealth capabilities. The ending of the Cold War led to cutbacks in this program, and its expensive maintenance eventually resulted it in being abandoned in favor of life extensions to the original ALCM.

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