Although originally planned for deployment with the B-47 and the B-52, the GAM-72A was only deployed with the B-52.
The first production GAM-72A was delivered to the 4135th Strategic Wing, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, on September 13, 1960. Initial operational capability was reached on February 1, 1961, when the first squadron of the 4135th Strategic Wing was equipped with the GAM-72A. On January 1, 1962 B-52 aircraft carried the GAM-72A decoy on airborne alert for the first time. Full operational capability was reached when the GAM-72A was deployed with the fourteenth and final B-52 squadron on April 15, 1962.
The operational version of the GAM-72 carried internal radar reflectors facing forward and to each side of the aircraft. Up to 100 lb (45 kg) of payload could be accommodated internally by the GAM-72. This internal space could be used to house a radar repeater or a chaff dispenser. An infrared burner in the tail could produce intense heat to simulate the heat signature of a bomber. The GAM-72 was not armed.
Eight GAM-72A decoys could be accommodated in the B-52s weapons bay but the normal decoy load was two.
Ground radar continued to improve, and the effectiveness of the GAM-72B, redesignated in 1963 as the ADM-20C, decreased over time. The AGM-69 Short Range Attack Missile (SRAM) allowed bombers to attack air-defense systems from a distance. By 1971, the USAF no longer considered the ADM-20C a credible decoy. The commander of the Strategic Air Command wrote the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force "that the Quail was only slightly better than nothing." The last ADM-20C operational test was flown at Eglin Air Force Base on July 13, 1972. On June 30, 1978, the last ADM-20C came off alert status. The last ADM-20C was removed from the United States Air Force inventory on December 15, 1978.