The Maverick's development history began in 1965, when the United States Air Force (USAF) began a program to develop a replacement to the AGM-12 Bullpup. With a range of 16.3 km (8.8 nmi), the radio-guided Bullpup was introduced in 1959 and was considered a "silver bullet" by operators. However, the launch aircraft was required to fly straight towards the target during the missile's flight instead of performing evasive maneuvers, thus risking the crew.
From 1966 to 1968, Hughes Missile Systems Division and Rockwell competed for the contract to build the new missile. Each were allocated $3 million for preliminary design and engineering work of the Maverick in 1966. In 1968, Hughes emerged with the $95 million contract for further development and testing of the missile; at the same time, contract options called for 17,000 missiles to be procured. Hughes conducted a smooth development of the AGM-65 Maverick, culminating in the first, and successful, firing of the AGM-65 on a tank at Air Force Missile Development Center at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, on 18 December 1969. In July 1971, the USAF and Hughes signed a $69.9 million contract for 2,000 missiles, the first of which was delivered in 1972.
Although early operational results were favorable, military planners predicted that the Maverick would fare less successfully in the hazy conditions of Central Europe, where it would have been used against Warsaw Pact forces. As such, development of the AGM-65B began in 1975 before it was delivered during the late 1970s. When production of the AGM-65A/B was ended in 1978, more than 35,000 missiles had been built.
More versions of the Maverick appeared, among which was the laser-guided AGM-65C/E. Development of the AGM-65C started in 1978 by Rockwell, who built a number of development missiles for the USAF. Due to high cost, the version was not procured by the USAF, and instead entered service with the United States Marine Corps (USMC) as the AGM-65E.
Another major development was the AGM-65D, which employed an imaging infrared (IIR) seeker. By imaging on radiated heat, the IIR is all-weather operable as well as showing improved performance in acquiring and tracking the hot engines, such as in tanks and trucks, that were to be one of its major missions. The seekerhead mechanically scanned the scene over a nitrogen-cooled 4-by-4 pixel array using a series of mirrored facets machined into the inner surface of the ring-shaped main gyroscope. The five-year development period of the AGM-65D started in 1977 and ended with the first delivery to the USAF in October 1983. The version received initial operating capability in February 1986.
The AGM-65F is a hybrid Maverick combining the AGM-65D's IIR seeker and warhead and propulsion components of the AGM-65E. Deployed by the United States Navy (USN), the AGM-65F is optimized for maritime strike roles. The first AGM-65F launch from the P-3C took place in 1989, and in 1994, the USN awarded Unisys a contract to integrate the version with the P-3C. Meanwhile, Hughes produced the AGM-65G, which essentially has the same guidance system as the D, with some software modifications that track larger targets, coupled with a shaped-charge warhead.
In the mid-1990s to early 2000s, there were several ideas of enhancing the Maverick's potential. Among them was the stillborn plan to incorporate the Maverick millimeter wave active radar homing, which can determine the exact shape of a target. Another study called "Longhorn Project" was conducted by Hughes, and later Raytheon following the absorption of Hughes into Raytheon, looked a Maverick version equipped with turbojet engines instead of rocket motors. The "Maverick ER", as it was dubbed, would have a "significant increase in range" compared to the Maverick's current range of 25 kilometres (16 mi). The proposal was abandoned, but if the Maverick ER had entered production, it would have replaced the AGM-119B Penguin carried on the MH-60R.
The most modern versions of the Maverick are the AGM-65H/K, which were in production as of 2007. The AGM-65H was developed by coupling the AGM-65B with a charge-coupled device (CCD) seeker optimized for desert operations and which has three times the range of the original TV-sensor; a parallel USN program aimed at rebuilding AGM-65Fs with newer CCD seekers resulted in the AGM-65J. The AGM-65K, meanwhile, was developed by replacing the AGM-65G's IR guidance system with an electro-optical television guidance system.