Air Weapons: UAE Needs A Lot More Hellfire

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June 6, 2016: The UAE (United Arab Emirates) has ordered another 4,000 AGM-114R and K Hellfire laser guided missiles. The last UAE order (for 1,200 Hellfires) was in 2007. Since early 2015 UAE helicopters have been using a lot of Hellfires in Yemen. The new order will be delivered over the next three or four years.

The K model is for use against armored vehicles while the R model has a warhead that is effective against personnel and structures, as well as lightly armored vehicles. The UAE has over fifty helicopters (28 AH-64 helicopter gunships and 24 UH-60 transport helicopters equipped as gunships) that can use Hellfire. The UAE UH-60s were converted from “Black Hawks” to “Battle Hawks” (also called AH-60) with the addition of the ESSS (External Stores Support System) kit which gives the UH-60 two stubby wings (like the AH-64 has), each with two hard points (for Hellfire missiles, rockets or machine-guns). The ESSS kits including a fire control system for the cockpit and the necessary wiring and power connectors. These AH-60s are roughly equal to an early model AH-64, when armed with Hellfire missiles and machine-guns (7.62mm or 12.7mm multiple barrel rotary weapons).

The main justification of the ESSS equipped UH-60s is the ability to use the Hellfire, especially the most recent 114R model. The U.S. Army has converted thousands of its older AGM-114K Hellfire missiles to the new AGM-114R standard. The AGM-114R entered service in 2010 and was found excellent against armored vehicles (except tanks). The UAE wants some K models in case someone comes at them with tanks, but most of this order will probably be R models.

Hellfires have been the most frequently used American missile for over a decade. The AGM-114R (Hellfire II) missiles use either an armor-piercing or blast/fragmentation (for use against non-armored targets and bunkers) warhead. The ones fired from UAVs usually have the blast (R model) warhead. The Hellfire II weighs 48.2 kg (106 pounds), carries a 9 kg (20 pound) warhead, and has a range of 8,000 meters. Hellfire has been popular because it is easy to use, reliable and very effective. For what it can do, Hellfire is very cost-effective.

Over the last few years Hellfire II has acquired several new features. For example, it has an electronics package (a circuit board and internal sensors) that monitors and reports the status of missile components. This Captive Carry Health Monitoring package constantly tracks the status of the missile and the environment (heat, vibration, and humidity). Maintenance personnel can jack into the missile and get a report at any time, making it easier to keep missiles fit for action. Older versions of the missile required this information to be logged manually and much more effort to insure that the missile was ready for combat.

In addition to UAVs, the Hellfire is most commonly used by the AH-64 helicopter gunship and, in a growing number of countries, on one or two engine commercial turboprop aircraft that are also used for reconnaissance or transports. An AH-64 can carry up to sixteen Hellfires at once. As ESSS demonstrated it’s not difficult to arm most helicopters with Hellfire.

Predator, Reaper, and Sky Warrior UAVs are the best known users of Hellfire. The missile is popular for use in urban areas because the small warhead contains only about a kilogram (2 .2 pounds) of explosives and this reduces civilian casualties. The missile is accurate enough to be sent through a window (OK, you have to be really good, and lucky, to do this) because of its laser guidance. The AGM-114R has also been test fired from a ground mount (a simple tripod device).

 


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