Air Weapons: Hella Lotta Hellfires


October 19, 2012: The U.S. has ordered up to another 24,000 Hellfire II missiles, to be delivered over the next two years as needed. Some of these will go to foreign customers. AGM-114R Hellfire missiles cost nearly $100,000 each. These are the most frequently used American missile these days, with over 14,000 fired in training or (mostly) combat since 2001. The U.S. Army is the main user but because of frequent use on larger UAVs, the air force and CIA have become heavy users as well.

Hellfire continues to evolve. The missiles now have the ability to go after targets directly below or behind the aircraft firing it. This solves a particular problem with UAVs, because the vidcam on board can spot targets directly below or even behind the aircraft, while the Hellfire was designed to only go after targets in front of it. This Hellfire mod accomplished all this with a multifunction guidance system. Guidance system upgrades have made the missile more accurate against moving targets.

The Hellfire II weighs 48 kg (106 pounds), carries a 9 kg (20 pound) warhead, and has a range of 8,000 meters. In addition to UAVs, the missile is most commonly used by the AH-64 helicopter gunship. An AH-64 can carry up to sixteen Hellfires at once. Hellfire launchers are also available for AH-1W, AH–1Z attack helicopters, MH-60R, and MH-60S naval helicopters, OH-58D/Fs, and Harvest HAWK equipped KC-130J gunships. The heaviest user in the last five years has been UAVs like the MQ-1 Predator, MQ-1C Gray Eagle, and MQ-9 Reaper.

The missile is popular for use in urban areas because the small warhead (only about a kilogram/2.2 pounds of explosives) 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 missiles have a multipurpose warhead that can penetrate armor or have a blast/fragmentation effect for use against non-armored targets and bunkers. The ones fired from UAVs usually need a blast effect.

Hellfire is the most frequently used missile during the war on terror.



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