HELLFIRE (initially named the Helicopter Launched, Fire and Forget Missile) is a short-range, laser- or radar-guided, air-to-ground missile system designed to defeat tanks and other individual targets, while minimizing the exposure of the launch vehicle to enemy fire. It was designed during the 1970s as a multimission, anti-armour, precision attack weapon that would be effective against tanks, bunkers and structures. Advanced development of the missile continued through 1976, when the U.S. Army awarded an engineering contract to Rockwell International.
The first guided launch of a AGM-114A HELLFIRE missile took place from a AH-1G Cobra helicopter in late 1978, and in 1979, several ballistic and guided firings took place from AH-64 Apache helicopters. On March 31, 1982, Rockwell International won the contract to produce HELLFIRE launchers and missiles and delivered the first operational rounds in late 1984. The HELLFIRE missile system entered service in 1985.
HELLFIRE is designed to accept other guidance packages and is used on helicopters against heavily armored vehicles, at longer standoff distances than any other Army missiles now in the inventory. The first three generations of HELLFIRE missiles use a laser seeker. HELLFIRE II is the optimized version of the laser family of HELLFIRE missiles.
The fourth generation, Longbow HELLFIRE, uses a radar frequency seeker. The Longbow system, used on Apache attack helicopters, allows the helicopter to launch and then remask, for minimum exposure to enemy fire. Longbow HELLFIRE can defeat reactive armor configurations projected into the 21st century and can be reprogrammed for changing threats and mission requirements.
On Dec. 20, 1989, AH-64 Apache helicopters fired seven HELLFIRE missiles during Operation Just Cause in Panama. All were direct hits. The first shots of Operation Desert Storm were on Jan. 17, 1991, when eight Apache helicopters used HELLFIRE missiles and HYDRA-70 rockets to destroy two Iraqi early-warning, ground control radar sites.
|First guided launch:
||HELLFIRE II, 64 inches; Longbow, 69.2 inches
||HELLFIRE II, 100 pounds; Longbow, 108 pounds