Popeye

The Popeye is an Israeli air-to-surface missile with a range of 75 to 90 km. Developed in the early 1980s, Popeye can deliver a 350 kg payload to accuracies within 3 meters. A long-range variant, the Popeye Turbo, is reported to be nuclear-capable.

Popeye At a Glance

Originated From: Israel
Possessed By: Australia, India, Israel, South Korea, Turkey, United States
Variants: Popeye 1, Popeye 2, AGM-142A-F, Crystal Maze, Popeye Turbo
Alternate Names: Have Nap, Have Lite, Raptor
Class: Air-to-surface missile, Cruise missile (Popeye Turbo)
Basing: Air-launched, Sub-launched (Popeye Turbo)
Length: 4.82m (Popeye 1 / AGM-142) 4.25m (Popeye 2), >4.82m (Popeye Turbo)
Diameter: 0.53mm
Launch Weight: 1360kg (Popeye 1 / AGM-142), 1135kg (Popeye 2), 1100kg (Crystal Maze), Unknown (Popeye Turbo)
Payload: 350kg, Unknown (Popeye Turbo)
Warhead: Unitary high explosive, high explosive penetrator, nuclear (Popeye Turbo)
Propulsion: Single-stage solid propellant, turbofan (Popeye Turbo)
Range: 80km (Popeye 1, AGM-142A-D), 75km (Popeye 2), 90km (AGM-142E/F), 100km (Crystal Maze), >200km (Popeye Turbo)
Status: Operational
In Service: 1986

Development

A Republic of Korea Air Force Popeye, 2015.

Few details are publicly known about the Popeye missile’s early development. After researching TV guidance systems from 1972, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems reportedly began Popeye development in the early 1980s.1 The Israeli Air Force accepted the Popeye 1 into service in 1986.2 In 1994, an IAF F-16 drop-tested the Popeye 2, a smaller, lighter variant of the missile which reportedly entered Israeli service in 1995.3

In 1994, Rafael marketed a turbofan-powered variant of the Popeye—designated the Popeye 3—to the United Kingdom.4 Although the UK did not purchase the Popeye 3, Rafael continued flight tests and design studies for a turbofan-powered Popeye through 1995. The Israeli Defense Force reportedly fielded the resultant missile—unofficially dubbed the Popeye Turbo—in 2002.5 After reports of a 2000 missile test in the Indian Ocean, analysts have speculated that Israel possesses a sub-launched variant of the Popeye Turbo with a 1,500 km range.6

Specifications/Variants

Popeye 1

The Popeye 1 is a solid-fueled air-to-ground missile with a launch weight of 1360 kg. Armed with a 350 – 365 kg high explosive or penetrator warhead, the Popeye 1 has a range of 80 kilometers.7

The Popeye 1 missile uses an inertial navigation system (INS) for midcourse guidance and a TV or IIR sensor for terminal guidance. The missile’s terminal guidance is exclusively man-in-the-loop; footage from the missile’s seeker is transmitted via datalink to an operator in the host aircraft who remotely guides the missile to its target. Consequently, the host aircraft must carry an 865kg AN/ASW-55 datalink pod to communicate with the missile and store in-flight footage. Due to its mass, the Popeye 1 system is not certified for carriage on the F-16 or other lightweight fighters. The missile is said to possess a circular error probable (CEP) of 3 meters.8

AGM-142 Have Nap

After signing a co-production contract with Rafael in 1989, the United States developed several derivatives of the basic Popeye design. The baseline Popeye 1—imported from Israel—was designated the AGM-142A. U.S.-produced Popeye derivates were designated as the AGM-142B-F. The first variant, the AGM-142B, replaced the baseline AGM-142A’s TV guidance with an imaging infrared (IIR) seeker. Another, designated the AGM-142C, was equipped with an I-800 penetrator warhead for attacking semi-hardened targets. The IIR-seeker equipped version of the AGM-142C was designated the AGM-142D.9

Beginning in 1993, the U.S. Air Force initiated a series of Producibility Enhancement Programs (PEP), which improved the AGM-142’s motor casing, inertial guidance system, and electronics.10 These upgraded missiles were designated the AGM-142E/F. In addition to a 90 km range, the AGM-142E/F possessed an updated data bus and optional GPS midcourse guidance.11 A third PEP, tested in 1998, introduced an infrared seeker with wide and narrow fields of view for the missile.12 Unconfirmed reports suggest that the AGM-142E/F variants have a CEP of 1 meter.13

Popeye 2 Have Lite

First exhibited in 1994, the Popeye 2 (“Have Lite”) is a lightweight variant of the Popeye 1 with a shortened motor section, lightened electronics, and improved aerodynamics.14 Weighing 1135 kilograms, the Popeye 2 is certified for F-16 carriage and has a slightly reduced range of 75 kilometers. Unlike the Popeye 1, the missile uses a GPS-augmented inertial navigation for midcourse guidance. The Popeye 2 is available with a 350 kg explosive or 352 kg penetrator warhead.15

Crystal Maze / Raptor

Between 2003 and 2004, Rafael developed an even lighter Popeye model for the Indian market called Raptor or Crystal Maze. Armed with an 80kg warhead, the Crystal Maze missile weighs 1,100 kg and has a range of 100 km. India took delivery of its first Crystal Maze missiles in 2006.16

Popeye Turbo

The Popeye Turbo is a turbofan-powered variant of the Popeye developed after 1994. The air-launched model is said to possess a similar payload and guidance system to the basic Popeye, with a range between 200 and 350 km.17 Analysts further speculate that Israel tested a lengthened, sub-launched derivative with an estimated range of 1,500 km. This sub-launched model reportedly carries a nuclear warhead.18

Service History

Israel

The Israeli Defense Forces first fielded the Popeye 1 missile in 1986 and the Popeye 2 in 1995.19 While Israel has used standoff missiles extensively in combat, the Popeye’s exact combat record is unclear.20 The only confirmed report of an Israeli Popeye strike occurred in 2014, when observers discovered an unexploded missile after an IAF attack on Syrian air defenses.21

United States

In 1987, the United States evaluated the Popeye to equip its B-52G/H bombers with a standoff precision strike capability, beginning procurement in 1989.22 Redesignated the AGM-142, the missile completed operational evaluations in 1990 and achieved initial operating capability by 1992.23 The United States directly imported the initial tranche of missiles from Israel, but later co-produced the AGM-142B-F with Martin Marietta/Lockheed Martin in the United States.24 In 1996, Rafael and Lockheed Martin incorporated a joint venture, Precision Guided Systems United States (PGSUS), to manufacture the AGM-142 at facilities in Florida and Alabama.25

Despite Congressional enthusiasm for AGM-142 procurement, the weapon did not see frequent combat use. Even after the Air Force ceased requesting AGM-142 funding in 1995, Congress appropriated over $106M (unadjusted) toward AGM-142 production through 1998.26 And though it deployed stocks of AGM-142s to Saudi Arabia in 1991, the U.S. Air Force refrained from using the weapons in Operation Desert Storm due to political sensitivities over the missiles’ Israeli origin.27 U.S. forces first fired the AGM-142 in anger on May 11, 1999, firing two missiles at a Serbian communications intercept station in support of Operation Allied Force. Due to software integration problems, both missiles failed to reach their target.28 The United States may have also used the AGM-142 during combat with Iraq in 2003, but those reports remain unconfirmed.29 In total, the United States procured 294 AGM-142 missiles before their withdrawal from service in 2003.30

Other States

Popeye mockups on parade, South Korea, 2003.

Both Israel and the United States have exported Popeye and Popeye variants to Australia, India, South Korea, and Turkey. In the mid-1990s, unconfirmed reports surfaced that Israel had exported STAR, a Popeye derivative, to the People’s Republic of China.31 From 1997 to 1998, Turkey ordered 30 missiles and began domestically manufacturing over 170 Popeye 1 and 2 missiles under license.32 Unconfirmed reports suggest that Turkey may have used Popeye missiles against Kurdish targets in 2016.33From 1997 to 1999, South Korea ordered over 216 Popeye 1 and AGM-142C/D missiles.34

In 2003, India placed an order for 30 Crystal Maze missiles from Rafael. After undergoing evaluations in December 2004, the weapons entered Indian service in 2006.35 While Indian warplanes carried Crystal Maze missiles during an operation in Balakot, Pakistan, weather conditions prevented their use in the strike.36

In 1998, Australia purchased 90 AGM-142E missiles from PGSUS.37 Facing difficulties integrating the AGM-142E with its F-111 attack aircraft, the Australian government unsuccessfully attempted to sell the missiles in 2001.38 After retiring the F-111 in 2010, the Australian government destroyed 88 missiles and sold two to South Korea.39