The US Army awards Lockheed Martin a multimillion-dollar contract to produce more Hellfire missiles, boosting its arsenal in the face of rising tensions with China and Russia. Let’s learn more about this iconic weapon and its impact on global conflicts.

The Origin of Hellfire

The AGM-114 Hellfire missile is the US military’s weapon of choice for taking out high-value targets like General Qassem Soleimani or al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Its conception dates back to the Cold War when the Pentagon was looking for a helicopter-launched anti-tank missile capable of engaging the Soviet army. In 1986, the Hellfire entered military service, getting its name from the acronym HELFIRE, which stands for HELiborne Laser FIRE and Forget Missile.

Originally designed for AH-64 Apache helicopters, the Hellfire has been adapted for use on fixed-wing aircraft, drones, land and sea vehicles, and fixed emplacements. In addition, its range has been expanded to attack radars, bunkers, small buildings, and communication systems.

Hellfire Missile
Hellfire R9X, a rare blade-based missile – Reuters

How capable is the Hellfire Missile?

The Hellfire missile is a highly capable air-to-ground missile primarily designed for use against armored vehicles, but it can also be used against other targets such as buildings, bunkers, and personnel. It has a range of up to 8 kilometers and can be launched from a variety of platforms, including helicopters, drones, and fixed-wing aircraft.

The missile has a semi-active laser guidance system that allows it to home in on a laser designator that is aimed at the target. This makes it highly accurate and able to hit targets with pinpoint precision, even in adverse weather conditions.

In addition to its accuracy, the Hellfire missile is also highly effective due to its highly explosive warhead, which can penetrate armor and destroy even heavily fortified targets. Overall, the Hellfire missile is a highly capable weapon that has proven to be very effective in combat situations.

Hellfire variants

The Hellfire missile has undergone several upgrades over the years, with the latest version being the Hellfire Romeo, which features improved guidance and a multi-purpose warhead.

The Hellfire missile family consists of several different parts, such as the Hellfire II, the Longbow Hellfire, and others. The R9X is a popular model, and it’s so stealthy that it’s been dubbed the “Ninja missile.” 

Unlike the traditional Hellfire, which kills with explosive force and shrapnel, the Ninja is capable of taking down precise targets without harming people near the target.

In 2019, the R9X gained widespread attention as it was successfully utilized twice within a week to eliminate terrorists in Syria without harming innocent bystanders.

The Hellfire in combat

Hellfire missiles have been used in various US military operations, including Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as targeted killings in the War on Terror.

The missile has a relatively small blast radius, which helps to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties. It is also used by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) such as the MQ-9 Reaper, which can carry up to four missiles at a time.

They have also been used by Ukrainian forces against Russian targets. Sweden sent Ukraine its RBS-12 coastal defense missile system, derived from the Hellfire, while Norway donated 160 Hellfire missiles, launch platforms, and guidance units. More Hellfire systems are likely to go into action in Ukraine in the near future.

The Hellfire: an essential weapon in the American arsenal

The contract of 439 million dollars between the Army of the United States and Lockheed Martin for producing Hellfire missiles demonstrates this weapon’s importance in American military power.

Its versatility and ability to take down high-value targets without harming nearby civilians make Hellfire an essential tool in current and future conflicts

Over the years, the evolution and adaptation of this missile have demonstrated its relevance in the changing scenario of modern warfare, consolidating its position as a key weapon in the US arsenal.