A model of Longbow Hellfire's components
|Type||Air-to-surface and surface-to-surface missile|
|Place of origin||United States|
|Wars||War on Terror|
|Manufacturer||Lockheed Martin, Boeing (previous second source), and Northrop Grumman (seeker only for AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire)|
|Unit cost||US$70,000 (FY 2021)|
|Mass||100–108 lb (45–49 kg)|
|Length||64 in (1.6 m)|
|Diameter||7 in (180 mm)|
|Wingspan||13 in (0.33 m)|
|546 yd (0.499 km) to 6.84 mi (11.01 km)|
|Maximum speed||Mach 1.3 (995 miles per hour, 1,601 km/h)|
|Semi-active laser homing |
millimeter wave radar seeker
|Rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft, unmanned combat air vehicles, tripods, ships, and ground vehicles|
The AGM-114 Hellfire is an air-to-surface missile (ASM) first developed for anti-armor use, but later models were developed for precision drone strikes against other target types, and have been used in a number of targeted killings of high-profile individuals. It was originally developed under the name Heliborne laser, fire-and-forget missile, which led to the colloquial name "Hellfire" ultimately becoming the missile's formal name. It has multi-mission, multi-target precision-strike ability, and can be launched from multiple air, sea, and ground platforms, including the Predator drone. The Hellfire missile is the primary 100-pound (45 kg) class air-to-ground precision weapon for the armed forces of the United States and many other nations.
Most variants are laser guided, with one variant, the AGM-114L "Longbow Hellfire", being radar guided. Laser guidance can be provided either from the launcher, such as the nose-mounted opto-electronics of the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, other airborne target designators or from ground-based observers, the latter two options allowing the launcher to break line of sight with the target and seek cover.
The Hellfire II, developed in the early 1990s is a modular missile system with several variants. Hellfire II's semi-active laser variants—AGM-114K high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT), AGM-114KII with external blast fragmentation sleeve, AGM-114M (blast fragmentation), and AGM-114N metal augmented charge (MAC)—achieve pinpoint accuracy by homing in on a reflected laser beam aimed at the target. Predator and Reaper UCAVs carry the Hellfire II, but the most common platform is the AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship, which can carry up to 16 of the missiles at once. The AGM-114L, or Longbow Hellfire, is a fire-and-forget weapon: equipped with a millimeter wave (MMW) radar seeker, it requires no further guidance after launch—even being able to lock-on to its target after launch—and can hit its target without the launcher or other friendly unit being in line of sight of the target. It also works in adverse weather and battlefield obscurants, such as smoke and fog which can mask the position of a target or prevent a designating laser from forming a detectable reflection. Each Hellfire weighs 104 pounds (47 kg), including the 20 pounds (9 kg) warhead, and has a range of 4.4–6.8 miles (7.1–11 km) depending on trajectory.
The AGM-114R "Romeo" Hellfire II entered service in late 2012. It uses a semi-active laser homing guidance system and a K-charge multipurpose warhead to engage targets that previously needed multiple Hellfire variants. It will replace AGM-114K, M, N, and P variants in U.S. service.
In October 2012, the U.S. ordered 24,000 Hellfire II missiles, for both the U.S. armed forces and foreign customers.
A possible new JCM successor called the Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM) is under consideration. Due to budget reductions, JAGM development was separated into increments, with Increment 1 focusing on adding a millimeter wave radar to the Hellfire-R to give it a dual-mode seeker, enabling it to track moving targets in bad weather.
In 2008, the usage of the AGM-114N metal augmented charge (MAC) variant caused controversy in the United Kingdom when it was reported that these thermobaric munitions were added to the British Army arsenal. Thermobaric weapons have been condemned by human rights groups. The UK Ministry of Defence refers to the AGM-114N as an "enhanced blast weapon".
The AGM-114 has been the munition of choice for airborne targeted killings that have included high-profile terrorist figures such as Ahmed Yassin (Hamas leader) in 2004 by the Israeli Air Force, Anwar al-Awlaki (American-born Islamic cleric and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader) in Yemen in 2011, Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan in 2012, Moktar Ali Zubeyr (also known as Ahmad Abdi Godane, leader of al-Shabaab) in Somalia in 2014, and Mohammed Emwazi (British-born ISIL executioner also known as 'Jihadi John') in Syria in 2015.
The AGM-114 has occasionally seen use as an air-to-air missile. The first operational air-to-air kill with a Hellfire took place on 24 May 2001, after a civilian Cessna 152 aircraft entered Israeli airspace from Lebanon, with unknown intentions and refusing to answer or comply with ATC repeated warnings to turn back. An Israeli Air Force AH-64A Apache helicopter fired on the Cessna, resulting in its complete disintegration. The second operational air-to-air kill with a Hellfire occurred on 10 February 2018, after an Iranian UAV entered Israeli airspace from Syria. An Israeli Air Force AH-64 launched a missile on the UAV, successfully destroying it.[third-party source needed]
In January 2016 The Wall Street Journal reported that one training missile without a warhead was accidentally shipped to Cuba in 2014 after a training mission in Europe. The dummy missile was later returned. A US official said that this was an inert "dummy" version of the Lockheed system, known as a "Captive Air Training Missile". It is stripped of its warhead, fuze, guidance equipment and motor.
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- AGM-114R Hellfire II (Hellfire Romeo)
- Target: All Target Types
- Range: 8,700 yd (8,000 m)
- Semi-active laser homing
- Warhead: Multi-function warhead
- Weight: 110 lb (50 kg)
- Speed: Mach 1.3
- Unit Cost: $99,600 (All-Up Round, 2015 USD)
- M36 Captive Flight Training Missile
- The M36 is an inert device used for training the handling of the Hellfire. It includes an operational laser seeker.
- The Hellfire R9X is a Hellfire variant that utilizes a kinetic warhead with pop-out blades, intended to reduce collateral damage when targeting specific individuals. Deployed in secret in 2017, its existence has been public since 2019. This variant was used in the killing of Jamal Ahmad Mohammad Al Badawi, accused mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombing, Abu Khayr al-Masri, a member of al Qaeda's leadership. The weapon has also been used in Syria and in Afghanistan, the latter against a commander in the Taliban.
Launch vehicles and systems
- Beechcraft Super King Air
- Cessna AC-208 Combat Caravan
- KC-130J Harvest HAWK
- IOMAX Archangel
The system has been tested for use on the Humvee and the Improved TOW Vehicle (ITV). Test shots have also been fired from a C-130 Hercules. Sweden and Norway use the Hellfire for coastal defense, and have conducted tests with Hellfire launchers mounted on the Combat Boat 90 coastal assault boat.
In 2016 the Longbow Hellfire was tested by the US Army using a fifteen tube Multi-Mission Launcher mounted on a Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) truck. The MML is an Army developed weapon system capable of deploying both surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles.
The following nations use the Hellfire:
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