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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.
The Hellfire can be fired from rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft, waterborne vessels and land-based systems against a variety of targets.
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 ReaperUCAVs 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.
The Joint Common Missile (JCM) was to replace Hellfire II (along with the AGM-65 Maverick) by around 2011. The JCM was developed with a tri-mode seeker and a multi-purpose warhead that would combine the capabilities of the several Hellfire variants. In the budget for FY2006, the U.S. Department of Defense canceled a number of projects that they felt no longer warranted continuation based on their cost effectiveness, including the JCM.
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.
M1A1 Abrams main battle tank destroyed by friendly fire in 1991 Gulf War. One Abrams is thought to have been accidentally set on fire by a Hellfire missile fired from an Apache helicopter.
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 occasionally saw 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 IranianUAV 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.
AGM-114 Ground Launched Hellfire-Light (GLH-L) missile system on a modified HMMWV chassis
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.
The US Navy is evaluating the missile for use on the littoral combat ship. The Missile was successfully fired from a LCS in early 2017