Air Weapons: Turkish Hellfire

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April 6, 2014:   Turkey recently conducted a successful test of its Hellfire clone, the Mizrak-U. With a range of 8 kilometers the Turkish missile can use either an infrared imaging guidance system or laser homing. Turkey becomes one of a growing list of nations that have produced their own version of the Hellfire. Britain produces a Hellfire variant, called Brimstone which is unique mainly in that it can be fire from jets. This version has become very popular as well. Several other countries, like China, have produced missiles similar in weight, size and capabilities to the Hellfire. Now Turkey is doing so as well.

The American AGM-114 Hellfire missile entered service since 1984 and proved enormously useful in the war on terror. An improved Hellfire II appeared in 1994 and over 30,000 have been produced so far. The Hellfire II weighs 48.2 kg (106 pounds), carries a 9 kg (20 pound) warhead and has a range of 8,000 meters. These have been the most frequently used American missiles for over a decade, with over 16,000 fired in training or (mostly) combat since 2001. A growing number of these Hellfires are for foreign customers. Hellfire missiles cost about $100,000 each depending on warhead and guidance system options.

Hellfire was originally designed for use by helicopter gunships against masses of Cold War era Russian tanks. That never happened, except in Kuwait during the 1991 war against Russian tanks owned by Iraq. Hellfire was quite successful in Kuwait. With the end of the Cold War the Hellfire seemed destined for the history books, as just another missile that worked but never distinguished itself. This all changed in 2002 when the CIA first used a Hellfire fired from a Predator UAV to kill a hard-to-find terrorist. The U.S. Air Force wasn’t really interested in this sort of thing and the CIA used its own money and authority to buy Predator UAVs and arm them with Hellfires. It quickly became apparent that the air force was wrong about UAVs and, well, the Hellfire was an army weapon used on helicopters and the air force never considered such a combination of UAV and missile useful for anything. The army soon found that Hellfire was an excellent weapon for supporting troops in urban areas or when going after terrorists anywhere.

Turkey plans to use Mizrak-U on its new T129 helicopter gunship. This aircraft is based on the Italian A129 which is roughly comparable to the upgraded versions of the U.S. AH-1 (especially the AH-1W SuperCobra). The 4.6 ton A-129 was the first helicopter gunship designed and built in Western Europe and was introduced in the 1980s. While it has been upgraded frequently, the only customer so far has been Italy, which bought 60 of them. The manufacturer, Agusta/Westland, has been desperate to get an export customer and made a deal for Turkey to produce over a hundred T129s under license.

 

 


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