‘The rumors are true! We often boresight the missile while in the air, usually on a wingman,’ Lynn Taylor, former A-10 Warthog pilot.
The AGM-65 Maverick is a tactical, air-to-surface guided missile designed for close air support, interdiction and defense suppression mission. It provides stand-off capability and high probability of strike against a wide range of tactical targets, including armor, air defenses, ships, transportation equipment and fuel storage facilities.
More than 5,000 AGM-65 A/B/D/E/F/G’s were employed during Operation Desert Storm, mainly attacking armored targets. Mavericks played a large part in the destruction of Iraq’s significant military force.
In the Gulf War, A-10s launched 90% of the AGM-65 Maverick missiles.
‘For the uninitiated, “boresighting” is simply calibrating and aligning the seeker to where it is supposed to be. The Maverick seeker is the camera behind that glass dome on the tip of the missile. When the jet makes tight turns and pulls Gs, that seeker can begin to shift out of alignment, which makes it tougher to track and lock onto a target when it’s time to let the big dog off the leash.
‘So, when you’re first heading out to the target area, you want to make sure that seeker is right where it’s supposed to be like a good little soldier when it’s time to lock and launch.
‘The missile is designed to lock onto targets that are in front of and below the jet, so the pilot can use a more shallow dive when deploying the weapon, instead of pointing their nose directly at the target. Because of this, you want the boresight to have a depression angle of quite a few degrees below the centerline of the aircraft.’
‘That makes boresighting difficult to do on the ground. On the ground, you’d be trying to find something to lock onto that is not that far in front of the aircraft, and is also in the right position to calibrate the seeker in the correct position.
‘So, usually on the ground you’d just check to make sure that the video is working, and that you can slew the seeker and lock onto something. The seeker alignment happens on the drive out.
‘When airborne, with another jet available to lock onto, you can position yourself such that the “target” jet is in the exact right position in the cockpit television monitor. You slew the seeker to the target, lock the missile on it, then tell it “that’s where you’re supposed to be. Wait there until I call you.”
‘While it would be possible to try to boresight on a ground target at that point, that target would still be “moving” relative to your jet, while a wingman is actually “stationary” relative to you. Also note that the missile is not actually armed at this point. All you’ve done is turn on the cockpit TV and the seeker camera. The really exciting bits are still asleep until you wake them up with some different switches.’
‘That’s why we boresight the missile on each other in the air.’
Photo credit: Jim Haseltine / U.S. Air Force