by Jirka Wagner
The Hellfire is the main air-to-ground missile of many of today's U.S. Army helicopters, including the AH-64 Apache gunship. The name Hellfire comes from HELicopter-Launched FIRE-and-forget missile. A standard load for the Apache can include a barrage of 16 Hellfires. The Hellfire is primarily used in an anti-tank role.
Hellfire was born of the AGM-64 Hornet, a technology demonstrator built between 1963-66 by North American Rockwell. The task of this missile was to validate the concept of using an optically-guided 'fire and forget' air-to-ground missile to destroy heavily aromored targets. From this successful concept, the Hellfire was first test-fired in 1971.
After the Hellfire is launched, a laser designator must be brought to bear on the target by either the firing aircraft or a ground-based unit. When the laser seeker in the nose of the Hellfire finds the laser reflections, it simply follows the laser light to the target. Just before the Hellfire reaches its target, the missile pitches up sharply, then dives onto the target, a tactic which preys upon the comparatively thin armor on the tops of tanks.
The Hellfire opened offensive action in Desert Storm, as Apache gunships took out Iraqi early-warning radar sites to clear a path for the air assault. Over 500 Iraqi tanks met their fate at the hands of the Hellfire missile.
Future plans for Hellfire include the AGM-114K Hellfire 2, which includes a tandem-warhead to defeat reactive armor, and combined imaging infrared seeker and millimeter radar seeker, with a range increased to 10,000m. The Hellfire was initially operational in 1985.
|Primary function||Air-to-ground guided missile|
|Contractor||Rockwell, Martin Marietta|
|Weight||Missile||99 lb||45 kg|
|Warhead||20 lb||9 kg|
|Length||5.3 ft||1.61 m|
|Diameter||7 in||17.8 cm|
|Wingspan||1.1 ft||33.5 cm|
|Guidance||Semi-active laser homing|
|Power plant||Thiokol TX-657 reduced-smoke solid-fuel rocket|
|Speed||Mach 1.1||1313 km/h|
|Range||Approximately 5 miles||8 km|