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In the early 1980s, the Naval Weapons Center (NWC) in China Lake created the AGM-123A Skipper II laser-guided standoff missile using off-the-shelf components. The GBU-16/B Paveway II LGB (Laser-Guided Bomb), consisting of a 450 kg (1000 lb) MK 83 bomb, an MXU-667/B airfoil group, and an MAU-169/B guidance section, was combined with a MK 78 rocket motor (taken from obsolete AGM-45B Shrike missiles) in a WPU-5/B propulsion section. The first test launches of experimental prototypes were conducted at China Lake in 1980. Because of the "bang-bang" mode of the MAU-169/B autopilot (the control surfaces were either deflected fully or not at all), the missile's flight path resembled that of a stone skipping across a pond, leading to the Skipper name. However, it took some time until the concept of this somewhat crude, but very cheap guided weapon (especially when compared to the then new Paveway III guided bombs) caught on in official circles. Finally, in March 1985 a contract for full-scale production of 2500 AGM-123As was awarded to Emerson Electric. The Skipper II (there was no "Skipper I", the "II" was derived from the Paveway II guidance) achieved Initial Operational Capability with the U.S. Navy in late 1985. The ATM-123A was an inert training variant of the AGM-123A.
|Photo: Norm Filer|
The AGM-123A was primarily employed by the A-6E Intruder in the anti-shipping role. It was a simple and effective weapon, which could lock on a laser-designated target before or after launch. The powered glide-bomb could theoretically reach a range of 55 km (30 nm), but in practice this was usually limited to about 25 km (13.5 nm) by the range of the laser designator (which was normally carried by the launching aircraft).
The designation AGM-123B was allocated to a variant described as "forward fit version of the AGM-123A". The AGM-123B is described by source  as having a WCU-10A/B control section and MXU-737A/B airfoil group, and the manufacturer is quoted as Texas Instruments. I have no information how many (if any) Skipper IIs were actually built as AGM-123B. The Skipper II is no longer in service with the U.S. Navy, having been phased out in the mid-1990s.
Note: Data given by several sources show slight variations. Figures given below may therefore be inaccurate!
Data for AGM-123A:
|Length||4.27 m (14 ft)|
|Wingspan||1.60 m (5 ft 3 in)|
|Diameter||35.6 cm (14 in)|
|Weight||580 kg (1280 lb)|
|Speed||1100 km/h (680 mph)|
|Range||25 km (13.5 nm)|
|Propulsion||Aerojet MK 78 dual-thrust solid-fueled rocket|
|Warhead||450 kg (1000 lb) MK 83 bomb|
 Norman Polmar: "The Naval Institute Guide to the Ship and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet", 15th ed., Naval Institute Press, 1993
 Christopher Chant: "World Encyclopaedia of Modern Air Weapons", Patrick Stephens Ltd., 1988
 Bernard Blake (ed.): "Jane's Weapon Systems 1987-88", Jane's, 1988
 Department of Defense Missile Nomenclature Records
 E-mail from David T. Hunter on early Skipper development
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