Country of origin
~ 800 mm
Range of fire
7 000 - 9 000 m
45.4 - 49 kg
1.63 - 1.8 m
HEAT, various (see below)
8 or 9 kg
Semi active laser of active radar
The US-made AGM-114 Hellfire Anti-Tank Guided Missile
is one of the most common and important heliborne weapons of the
Western Bloc. Designed to serve as an equalizer against superior
numbers of Warsaw Pact tanks at the height of the Cold War, this
missile continues to find a place in new missions and battles that
were largely discounted in its infancy.
Development of this weapon began in 1974, as a US Army
program. In its conceptual phase, the AGM-114 was known as the "HELFIRE",
a portmanteau of "HELicopter launched FIRE and forget". The
by 1978 had become a joint program US Marine Corp as well; the
Marines had a requirement for essentially the same type of weapon,
and Congress directed that they co-develop the HELFIRE. Test firings
began later that same year, with operational testing was reportedly
completed in 1981, and the AGM-114 achieved initial operational
capability with the US Army in 1985.
At some point before it was approved for production in 1982
the AGM-114 HELFIRE was inevitably renamed the "Hellfire", and like
most modern US weapons, its origins are a tangled web of ties
between legions of contractors and subcontractors. It was initially
a proprietary Rockwell product, but a Martin Marietta seeker head
was integrated into the design by the time its live-fire testing
began. The motors were all manufactured by Thikliol, but are now ATK
products. The primary contractor today for all models except the
AGM-114L is Hellfire Systems LLC, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin
and Boeing. The AGM-114L is currently produced by Longbow LLC, a
joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Thus, for all
intents and purposes, the Hellfire is essentially a Lockheed
All variants to date, with the exception of the AGM-114L,
employ semi-active laser guidance. The missile homes-in on a laser
spot produced by a laser designator. The aircraft employing the
Hellfire usually have their own laser designator, but the target can
be "lased" by another aircraft, a fighting vehicle, personnel with a
man-portable designator, and so on. As such, the aircraft launching
the missile needs only point it in the right direction and launch it
--- for helicopters, this allows them to remain terrain-masked
without having to expose themselves to possible detection and/or
hostile fire. Another advantage unprecedented in air-launched ATGMs
is that multiple missiles can be launched simultaneously at an
individual target, greatly increasing the chances of destroying the
target. However, the greatest advantage is in the ability to engage
multiple targets simultaneously by "ripple fire"; the launching of
multiple missiles in tandem at a close group of targets, and then
designating one after another as the missiles hit them. For example,
a helicopter attacking a platoon of three tanks can launch three
missiles a few seconds apart from one another, then move the laser
spot from the first target after the first missile hits it to the
second target, and so on. This tactic was used to devastating effect
in the Persian Gulf War.
The AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire is unique in the series for
employing a milimetric wave ("MMW") active radar homing guidance
system, in place of the usual laser seeker head. This missile's
distinctive name is a reference to the
AH-64D Apache Longbow, whose
sensor mast atop its rotor hub has the ability to detect, identify,
and engage targets using the Longbow Hellfire. The guidance method
differs from anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles however, in that
rather than simply homing-in on a coherent radar reflector (which
would make attacking a ground target impossible in most conditions,
due to ground clutter), the seeker head instead locks onto an object
that stands-out in three dimensions from the rest of the terrain.
Thus, although the sensor system is radically different, the Longbow
Hellfire recognizes and homes-in on its target in much the same
manner as electro-optical guided weapons of years past; by image
recognition. As a result, this variant is a completely fire and
forget munition, requiring no input from the operator aside from
cuing the target and launching the missile, which eliminates the
need to launch multiple missiles in tandem at one target in order to
attack many (as described above).
With the exception of the AGM-114M and AGM-114N, all "war
shot" versions of the Hellfire have shaped charge warheads. Exactly
how much armor these warheads penetrate has never officially been
disclosed, but has noted to be less than that of the I-TOW missiles.
Later models with tandem shaped charge warheads likely have greatly
improved armor penetration, in addition to the stated ability to
defeat explosive reactive armor.
The AGM-114M employs an HE-FRAG warhead with an additional
incendiary effect. It is made primarily for use against soft targets
that shaped charge warheads generally have little effect against,
such as troops, light vehicles, watercraft, civilian structures,
parked aircraft, and do on. This warhead would also be effective
against lightly-armored vehicles, but would have no effect against
thickly-armored main battle tanks.
The AGM-114N goes a step further than the M model, with a
thermobaric warhead. Called a "Metal-Augmented Charge" (MAC, for
short), the title suggests that this munition uses an oxidized
metallic compound (probably powdered Zinc or Aluminum) as the
bursting charge; if so, the heat of the detonation would be immense,
as well as the blast overpressure. As with the AGM-114M, the N model
is intended for use against soft targets, but it would be especially
effective against structures and area targets.
Propulsion is via a Thiokol (now ATK) M120-series rocket
motor, employing solid fuel and a single stage. Starting with the
AGM-114B, all Hellfires were equipped with smokeless M120 variants.
Starting with the AGM-114B, all Hellfires were built with either the
M120E1 (developed for the US Army), or the M120A2 (developed for the
US Navy; and by extension, the US Marine Corps). The shelf life for
the M120 series is approximately 20 years, by which time the missile
must have its motor replaced, or be deactivated.
The Hellfire is most famously associated with the
Apache attack helicopter, but since its introduction has been
integrated into a multitude of different launch platforms, including
fixed-wing aircraft. It has also been successfully integrated into
ground-based and naval launch platforms, though to date none of
these have entered production. The problem with the Hellfire in a
ground-based application is likely its significant mass and unit
cost; a BGM-71C TOW IIA, for example, is half the weight and cost of
the AGM-114L Hellfire. A new generation of more compact ATGMs, such
as the 9M133 Kornet and
FGM-148 Javelin, have further eroded the
viability of ground-launched Hellfires. The limitations of the
Hellfire for marine use are much simpler, in that it is extremely
lacking in range and power compared to missiles such as the
It is also possible for the Hellfire to engage helicopters
and slow fixed-wing aircraft, though its guidance, warhead, and
flight profile obviously make it less than ideal for this purpose
(hence, why combat helicopters are often seen carrying missiles like
the AIM-92 Stinger and
AIM-9 Sidewinder). The only documented case
of the Hellfire shooting-down an aircraft was on May 24th 2001, when
AH-64 Apache shot-down a civilian Cessna 152 intruding into
restricted airspace (which unfortunately stemmed
from the inexperience of the civilian pilot, rather than hostile
The combat debut of the Hellfire was during Operation Just
Cause in 1989, when US Army AH-64 Apaches engaged Panama Defense Forces
this weapon. While the PDF had few armored vehicles, and no main
battle tanks, the sizable explosive charge was effective against
many structures held by Panamanian troops. The most famous example
was the siege on the PDF headquarters building, in which Hellfires
gutted said structure.
By far the most famous employment of the Hellfire was during
the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which
AH-64 Apaches destroyed more
than 500 Iraqi tanks using this weapon. Hellfires were also employed
AH-1 Cobras of the US Army and Marine Corps during this conflict,
destroying even more armored vehicles. It has continued to be used
throughout numerous conflicts since the Persian Gulf War, including
the Afghan War, the Iraq War, the Libyan Civil War, the Yemeni Civil
War, and the Syrian Civil War.
The AGM-114 Hellfire's operators are numerous, and include
Australia, Egypt, France, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel,
Italy, Jordan, Japan, Kuwait, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Norway,
Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain,
Sweden, Taiwan, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the
United Kingdom, and the United States. The success and availability
of the Hellfire seemingly guarantee that it will proliferate even
As of late 2015, the Hellfire remains in production. The unit
cost of current models varies between $65 000 (AGM-114K) to $111 000
(AGM-114L). Older models are less expensive ($25 000 for the
AGM-114B), but are no longer in production.
YAGM-114A: Prototype design of the Hellfire missile. The
final series differs little from the first production model.
AGM-114A Hellfire: Original production model, with an M120
motor and an 8 kg unitary shaped charge warhead.
AGM-114B Hellfire: US Navy version of the AGM-114A, with an
M120E1 motor and a Safe/Arming Device (SAD) system.
AGM-114C Hellfire: US Army version of the AGM-114B, but
without a SAD system.
AGM-114D Hellfire: Improved AGM-114C with a digital autopilot
system, replacing the analog system in the previous models. Did not
AGM-114E Hellfire: US Navy version of the AGM-114D, with a
SAD system added. Did not enter service.
AGM-114F Interim Hellfire: US Army variant with an improved
guided system and tandem HEAT warhead, at the cost of a slight range
AGM-114G Interim Hellfire: US Navy version of the AGM-114F,
with a SAD system added. Did not enter service.
AGM-114H Interim Hellfire: Improved AGM-114F with a digital
autopilot, replacing the analog autopilot. Did not enter service.
AGM-114I: Unused designation.
AGM-114J Hellfire II: Improved AGM-114F, with lightened
construction to increase range. Did not enter service.
AGM-114K Hellfire II: US Navy version of the AGM-114J with a
SAD system. Adopted by both the US Army and US Navy.
AGM-114KBF: AGM-114K with the HE-FRAG warhead from the
surface to air missile, for use against soft targets. Did not enter
AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire: Active radar homing model for use
AH-64D Apache Longbow.
AGM-114M Hellfire II: AGK-114K fitted with an HE-FRAG/incendiary
warhead, for use against soft targets and material targets.
AGM-114N Hellfire II: AGM-114M with a thermobaric warhead,
for use against personnel, watercraft, and structures.
AGM-114O Hellfire II: Unused designation.
AGM-114P Hellfire II: AGM-114K modified for use on fixed-wing
AGM-114Q Hellfire II: Practice version of the AGM-114N with
an inert warhead.
AGM-114R Hellfire II: Dual-purpose missile with a HEAT/FRAG
warhead, and an improved guidance system.
AGM-114S Hellfire II: Practice version of the AGM-114K with a
AGM-114T Hellfire II: Improved AGM-114R, with an insensitive
rocket motor and electromagnetic control actuators.
M34: Dummy missile for ground handling training. Also
designated the DATM-114.
M36: Captive air training missile, without a motor or
warhead. Also designated the CATM-114.
A variant adapted for use especially on fixed-wing aircraft, the
Brimstone entered development as a modified Hellfire, but evolved
into an entirely unrelated weapon by the time its design was
finalized. Currently used by Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom.
BGM-114 (hypothetical): Likely designation for
surface-launched Hellfire missiles. The Hellfire has frequently been
demonstrated in this capacity, but never operationally employed as
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