AGM-122: How the US Transformed AIM-9 into an Anti-Radar Marvel

A Glimpse into Cold War Ingenuity

In the throes of the Cold War, the United States showcased its technological prowess by ingeniously repurposing the AIM-9C air-to-air missile into the formidable AGM-122 anti-radar weapon. This conversion, born out of necessity during the 1980s, not only breathed new life into mothballed AIM-9C units but also demonstrated the nation’s commitment to staying ahead in the arms race.

AIM-9C: The Sidewinder Radar Revolution

The journey began in the early 1960s with the creation of the AIM-9C, affectionately known as the “Sidewinder radar.” Unlike its predecessors, this air-to-air missile boasted a semi-active radar homing (SARH) system, eliminating the need for intricate maneuvers to target enemy aircraft. This innovation marked a significant leap forward, allowing for nighttime and all-weather usage, a feat unheard of in its time.

From Storage to Skies: AIM-9C’s Second Act

Though approximately 1,000 AIM-9C units languished in storage due to issues with the F-8s’ onboard equipment, their story took an unexpected turn in the 1980s. The US Marine Corps sought a short-range anti-radar missile for their AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters, AV8 Harrier vertical takeoff aircraft, and A-4 Skyhawk attack aircraft. This ignited the improvised transformation of AIM-9C into AGM-122 missiles, spearheaded by Motorola.

AGM-122
AV-8A Harrier with AGM-122 anti-radar missile, archival photo, source – USN

Crafting the AGM-122: A Technological Symphony

The conversion project, initiated in 1986, involved not only replacing engines and fuel but also incorporating a wide-band GPS with a passive guidance principle. Notably, the combat unit’s equipment remained unchanged, requiring the rocket to execute a strategic “slide” toward the target to neutralize enemy anti-aircraft defenses. By 1990, 700 AIM-9Cs had metamorphosed into AGM-122 anti-radar missiles, ready to take on new roles in the military arsenal.

The Untold Story of AGM-122’s Combat Debut

While The Drive’s account lacks specific details about the AGM-122’s combat history, it confirms that these missiles were indeed deployed during either combat operations or exercises. A serialized version, AGM-122B, tantalizingly teased by the authors, never materialized, leaving enthusiasts to wonder about its unfulfilled potential.

Implications for Today

The prospect of converting surplus AIM-9s into anti-radar missiles might seem improbable in the current landscape. However, the Armed Forces‘ recent revelation of the S-8P rocket for army aviation, designed explicitly to counter enemy air defense, underscores the perpetual need for cutting-edge weaponry.