To help celebrate Ho Chi Minh’s 77th birthday on May 19, 1967, a Navy A-4 pilot aimed a new TV-guided glide bomb at Hanoi’s main power plant, scoring a direct hit in its first use in combat. The AGM-62, or Walleye, allowed pilots to conduct precision attacks over North Vietnam without entering the deadly barrage of anti-aircraft artillery protecting most major targets. Its arrival came as U.S. forces faced increasing pressure to limit “collateral” damage and reduce losses in the face of the North’s highly effective propaganda machine and air defense network.The first precision-guided antisurface weapon, the Walleye introduced several new technologies during the Vietnam War.
- It incorporated the world’s first solid-state television camera.
- The guidance system included the world’s first zero-input-impedance amplifier.
- It was America’s first true “fire and forget” air-surface-weapon.
The Walleye simply required the pilot to point his aircraft at the target. Once the TV camera captured the target and transmitted the image to the cockpit monitor, the pilot centered the monitor’s cross hairs on the point he wished to hit. When the image was sharp enough to ensure the TV guidance system would remain on target, the pilot released the bomb.
Originally intended as a standoff antiship weapon, the first Walleye consisted of a Mark 83 985-lb. bomb with a guidance system and four control fins. Powerful and accurate as they were, however, they lacked the punch to take down North Vietnam’s hardened railway bridges, bunkers and coastal defense sites.
The Walleye II was built around the recently introduced Mark 84 2,000-lb. bomb or a 1,600-lb. shaped charge warhead and included an improved camera and a powerful data link enabling the pilot to modify the bomb’s course after release.
The Walleye’s accuracy made it the weapon of choice for attacks on the most difficult and heavily defended targets. As with any system reliant on “visual guidance,” however, its effectiveness varied with visibility. Ground fog, smoke and cloud conditions sometimes precluded its use or degraded its accuracy. Despite these limitations, it made a vital contribution to the American bombing campaign. The Navy retained the AGM-62 well into the 1990s, installing guidance system and warhead improvements to make it more resistant to enemy countermeasures and adverse weather effects.
Originally published in the August 2009 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.