GEAR & TECH

Why the US military loves the Hellfire missile

When it was first designed, the AGM-114 Hellfire missile was intended to give the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter a way to kill the Soviet tanks of World War II, replacing a combination of the AH-1 Cobra and the BGM-71 TOW missile. But the Hellfire has proven to be far more versatile.


Don't get us wrong, the Hellfire was indeed a very capable tank killer. As many as 4,000 missiles were fired during Operation Desert Storm and as many as 90% of those hit their targets, which ranged from tanks to bunkers to radar sites.

The Hellfire was test-fired from a version of the M113 armored personnel carrier. (US Army photo)

After Desert Storm, the missile was improved. One of the biggest improvements was the addition of a new means of guidance: the Longbow radar system. The Longbow radar is able to automatically search, detect, locate, classify, and prioritize targets in the air, on land, and at sea.

The Hellfire has been added to numerous other helicopters, notably Navy MH-60R and MH-60S Seahawks. It also has been added to the Navy's littoral combat ships, and it has been tested for launch from a variety of ground vehicles, from the M113 to the High-Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle. The missile is so versatile, in fact, that they're used for coastal defense by Norway and Sweden, and they're also used on the Combat Boat 90, a Swedish coastal boat.

But the missile's true versatility emerged in the War on Terror.

A Sikorsky MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter, assigned to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35, fires an AGM-114M Hellfire missile near San Clemente Island, Calif., during a live-fire combat training exercise. (U.S. Navy Combat Camera photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Arthurgwain L. Marquez)

The United States and Israel have used the Hellfire to take out a number of high-ranking terrorists. This includes Hamas leader Ahmed Yasin, Anwar al-Awlaki, and ISIS propagandist, "Jihadi John." The Hellfire has been exported to over two dozen countries and it will likely be in service for a long time to come, including as an option for the Stryker Mobile Short-range Air Defense vehicle.

Learn more about the highly-versatile Hellfire in the video below.