Hellfire I/II missiles are the USA’s preferred aerial anti-armor missile, and are widely deployed with America’s allies. All use semi-active laser guidance as their base mode. They equip its helicopter fleets (AH-64, AH-1, OH-58D, MH-60S/R), AH-64 and S-70 helicopters flown by its allies, and even Australia and France’s Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopters. Range is officially listed as 9,000 meters, or about 5.6 miles.
While Hellfires lack the fast-jet launch capabilities – and correspondingly extended maximum range – of the UK’s MBDA Brimstone missiles, Lockheed Martin’s missile has carved out unique niches as tripod-launched coastal defense assets in Norway and Sweden, and as the guided missile integrated into American UAVs like the MQ-1 Predator family. This article covers the current set of contracts, which began in 2008:
Lockheed Martin’s Hellfires
Hellfire II missiles come in several variants. The AGM-114K is the basic Hellfire II missile; it uses a shaped-charge HEAT(High Explosive Anti-Tank) warhead that can destroy armored vehicles, or punch into buildings.
The recently-introduced AGM-114K-A variant adds a blast fragmentation sleeve to the HEAT warhead’s anti-tank capability, giving it added versatility against unarmored targets in the open.
The AM-114M version was originally developed for the Navy; its warhead is solely blast fragmentation, which is effective against boats, lightly armored vehicles, etc.
The AGM-114N variant uses a thermobaric (“metal augmented charge”) warhead that can suck the air out of a cave, collapse a building, or produce an astoundingly large blast radius out in the open.
A new AGM-114R “multi-purpose” Hellfire II is headed into production/ conversion. It adds some guidance and navigation improvements, and goes one step further than the K-A variant: it’s intended to work well against all 3 target types: armored vehicles, fortified positions, or soft/open targets. The “Romeo” will become the mainstay of the future Hellfire fleet, used from helicopters and UAVs, until and unless Hellfire itself is supplanted by the JAGM program. Hellfire systems product manager US Army Lt. Col. Mike Brown:
“One of the most noticeable operational enhancements in the AGM-114R missile is that the pilot can now select the [blast type] while on the move and without having to have a pre-set mission load prior to departure… This is a big deal in insurgency warfare, as witnessed in Afghanistan where the Taliban are fighting in the open and simultaneously planning their next attacks in amongst the local populace using fixed structure facilities to screen their presence.”
Two more Hellfire variants feature key changes that aren’t related to their warheads.
The AGM-114L “Longbow Hellfire” adds a millimeter-wave radar seeker, which makes it a “fire-and-forget” missile. It’s integrated with the mast-mounted radar on AH-64D Apache helicopters, and AH-1 Cobra family attack helicopters have been tested with different add-ons that would give them similar capabilities.
The AGM-114P variant is modified for use from UAVs flying at altitude. That requires greater environmental tolerances, as the difference between temperature at launch altitude and near the target can be well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The AGM-114P’s 3-axis inertial measuring unit (IMU) gives it a 360-degree targeting capability, making it easier to fire from UAVs that lack a helicopter’s swivel and point maneuverability. Its unique features will also be present in the new AGM-114R, which will succeed it.
Contracts and Key Events
The common denominator in this article is the contract: W31P4Q-08-C-0361.
Hellfire Systems LLC in Orlando, FL is a Lockheed Martin/ Boeing joint venture, and is the only source of Hellfire missiles. The US Army Aviation & Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL manages these contracts, unless otherwise noted.
March 22/21: Korea The Republic of Korea has decided to buy a batch of US-made AGM-114R multi-purpose Hellfire II missiles. The US military’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency issued a press release on March 19, 2021, that announced that the State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Republic of Korea of AGM-114R Hellfire missiles and related equipment for an estimated cost of $36 million. The potential sales, announced on the website of the DSCA, involve hundred eighty-eight AGM-114R Hellfire missiles. Also included are AGM-114R spare parts; US Government and contractor engineering, technical, and logistics support services; repair and return; storage; and other related elements of logistical and program support.
August 28/20: UK The US State Department has authorized a British purchase of three hundred and ninety-five AGM-114R2 Hellfire missiles for an estimated cost of $46 million. The required certification notifying Congress about this possible sale was delivered by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. The UK Government had put a request for the acquisition of the 395 missiles and this request also included technical assistance, publications, integration support, and other related aspects regarding logistics and program support. The proposed sale will not only support the foreign policy but also the national security objectives of the US Government by bolstering the security of a Nato ally. Furthermore, the acquisition of these missiles is expected to help the UK to replace expiring and unserviceable missiles and bolstering its capability to meet current and future threats. The missiles are also expected to help maintain its ability to carry out missions across a wide range of military operations. These missiles will also be easily inducted by the UK into its armed forces.
December 18/19: MD 530G Block II MD Helicopters intends to upgrade its MD 530G Block II scout attack helicopter with an integrated weapons system made by Elbit Systems that would make the aircraft capable of carrying and firing Hellfire missiles. The addition of the AGM-114 Hellfire semi-active laser-guided missile would give the MD 530G an anti-tank and anti-armor capability it does not currently have. The Elbit Systems upgrade package for the MD 530G is to include a helmet display and tracking system, weapons management system and mission management system, says MD Helicopters. The MD 530G’s current standard configuration includes unguided rocket pods and mini-guns.
April 29/19: New Procurement Lockheed Martin won a $723.5 million contract modification to procure a variety of Hellfire II missiles for the US Army as well as three allies. The air-to-surface missiles will be produced for Lebanon, the Netherlands and France as part of Foreign Military Sales. All Hellfire II variants have been used successfully in Operation Iraqi Freedom, with more than 1,000 missiles fired to date. With more than 22,000 rounds delivered since production began in 1994, Hellfire II has been successfully integrated with a wide array of platforms, including the US Army’s Apache and Kiowa Warrior helicopters, the US Marine Corps’ Cobra, the US Navy’s Seahawk helicopter, the UK’s Apache attack helicopter, the Eurocopter Tiger and the US Air Force’s Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles. Lockheed Martin will perform work in Florida, with an estimated completion date of September 30, 2022.
April 9/12: An $8.75 million firm-fixed-price contract to buy long lead parts for the Hellfire II Romeo RX. Work will be performed in Orlando, FL, with an estimated completion date of March 31/14. The bid was solicited through the Internet, with 1 bid received by U.S. Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W31P4Q-08-C-0361).
Aug 1/11: A $159 million firm-fixed-price, unfinalized contract begins the 2011-2014 buy of up to 24,000 AGM-114N/P/Q/R Hellfire II missiles (W31P4Q-11-C-0242). Read “US Hellfire Missile Orders, FY 2011-2014” for full coverage.
March 28/11: Lockheed Martin announces the 6th and final proof-of-principle test for the new AGM 114R HELLFIRE II successfully concludes at Eglin AFB, FL, using ground launch in lock-on after launch mode from 2.5 km away. The missile penetrated the brick-over-block target, and successfully detonated with the specified fuze delay. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mike Brown, HELLFIRE Systems product manager at the Army’s Joint Attack Munition Systems project office:
“The AGM-114R baseline design is now defined and allows us to go into system qualification… The R model remains on cost and on schedule, and meets all performance objectives.”
March 14: A $38.6 million firm-fixed-price contract covers an in-line production configuration change of 2,600 Hellfire II AGM-114P2 missiles, for use from UAVs. Work will be performed in Orlando, FL, until the end of FY 2013: Sept 30/13. One sole-source bid was solicited with one bid received (W31P4Q-08-C-0361).
Sept 10/10: A $20.1 million firm-fixed-price contract to transition the new air-to-ground AGM-114R Hellfire II Romeo missile into the current Hellfire II missile production line.
Work will performed in Orlando, FL with an estimated completion date of Sept 30/13. One sole-source bid was solicited and 1 bid was received (W31P4Q-08-C-0361).
Aug 30/10: An AGM-114R hits and “destroys” a stationary M-60 tank target 6.4 km down range, in the missile’s 3rd proof-of-principle flight test. The missile was ground launched, with a flight profile designed to simulate airborne launch from a UAV. The missile was launched in lock-on-after-launch mode, with a high trajectory. It used its inertial guidance to fly to the approximate location of the target before beginning its search, and struck the target within inches of the laser aimpoint. Lockheed Martin.
Aug 26/10: A 3-year, $14.4 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for Romeo Phase 3 engineering, which will re-configure existing Army AGM-114K2 and AGM-114N missiles to the AGM-114R configuration.
Work is to be performed in Columbia, SC with an estimated completion date of Sept 30/13. One bid was solicited with one received (W31P4Q-08-C-0361; Serial No. 1765).
July 26/10: The Longbow, LLC joint venture in Orlando, FL received a $39.5 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for engineering services supporting the Hellfire and Hellfire Longbow missiles. Work is to be performed in Orlando, FL (50%); Baltimore, MD (25%); United Arab Emirates (10%); and Taiwan (15%), and will run to Sept 30/12. One bid was solicited with one bid received by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, AMSAM-AC-TM-H in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W31P4Q-10-C-0256).
This contract is not in the same series as the other entries; it is offered as a one-time reminder that all equipment buys come with associated engineering service support contracts, as part of their operations and maintenance costs. Taiwan and the UAE are already Hellfire customers; the UAE uses them on its AH-64 attack helicopters, while Taiwan became a customer in 2005.
June 23/10: A $22 million firm-fixed-price contract, exercising a FY 2010 option for 331 Hellfire II missiles. Work is to be performed in Orlando, FL, with an estimated completion date of Sept 30/13. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W31P4Q-08-C-0361).
May 10/10: An $84.5 million firm-fixed-price contract, exercising a FY 2010 option for 1,253 Hellfire II missiles. See also March 26/10 entry. Work is to be performed in Orlando, FL, with an estimated completion date of Sept 30/13. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W31P4Q-08-C-0361).
May 6/10: A $15.8 million firm-fixed-price contract to add the new AGM-114R Hellfire II Romeo missile into the current missile production line. As noted above, this variant is designed to offer a “tri-mode” warhead that can be effective against armored vehicles, fortifications, and targets in the open.
Work is to be performed in Orlando, FL, with an estimated completion date of Sept 30/13. There’s only one maker of Hellfire missiles; 1 bid was solicited by the U.S. Army’s AMCOM Contracting Center at Redstone Arsenal, AL, with 1 bid received (W31P4Q-08-C-0361).
April 29/10: Alliant Techsystems announces $32 million in follow-on production sub-contracts from Lockheed Martin for about 7,100 Hellfire II missile rocket motors, and 2,200 AGM-114N metal augmented charge (thermobaric) warheads. The motors and warheads will be built at its manufacturing facility in Rocket Center, WVA.
ATK was awarded the HELLFIRE II baseline sub-contract in November 2008 to produce and deliver rocket motors and warheads. This represents the first option, with deliveries scheduled to run from April 2011 – July 2012. A second option could be awarded in late 2010. Dating back to HELLFIRE I in the 1980s, ATK has produced nearly 80,000 HELLFIRE rocket motors and over 6,400 MAC warheads. In addition, ATK manufactures the copper liner for the AGM-114K’s main shaped-charge high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warhead.
April 8/10: Lockheed Martin announces success in its 1st live warhead proof-of-principle (POP) flight test, conducted at Eglin Air Force Base, FL. The test featured a lock-on-after-launch engagement of a stationary target board at 1.6 miles/ 2.5 km, launched with a low trajectory suitable for a military operation in urban terrain. The multi-purpose, multi-stage warhead was set with a delayed fuze that allows the missile to penetrate the target before detonating.
The AGM-114R’s multi-purpose warhead and electronic safe, arm and fire, or (ESAF) module were the critical technologies being tested.
March 26/10: Hellfire Systems in Orlando, FL received a $268.75 million firm-fixed-price contract modification, exercising FY 2010 options for 3,955 Hellfire II missiles. Work is to be performed in Orlando, FL, with an estimated completion date of Sept 30/13. US Army Contracting Command, AMCOM Contracting Center, Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contract (W31P4Q-08-C-0361).
Feb 18/10: The US Army announces that its MQ-1C ER/MP UAV has successfully completed a series of tests with a HELLFIRE II UAS missile variant, whose 360-degree targeting ability allows UAVs that lack a helicopter’s instant maneuverability to put missiles on target faster. Testing began on Nov 22/09, and took place at Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, CA, following cooperation from General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems, Inc.’s Software Integration Laboratory, the company’s El Mirage Flight Test Facility in El Mirage, CA, and Edwards Air Force Base, CA.
The tests began with dry runs and an inert test missile, followed by a successful “cold” pass using a live missile to verify lock-on, followed by “hot pass” firing. November and December involved testing in various conditions, from varying altitudes, against stationary or moving targets. Tests recorded 9 successful shots, which helped pave the way for the MQ-1C UAV’s February 2010 Milestone C production approval.
25ID’s 25 CAB, 2006-2007
Aug 18/08: Hellfire Systems in Orlando, FL received a $356.7 million firm-fixed price contract for Hellfire II High-Energy Anti-Tank missiles. Work will be performed in Orlando, FL, and is expected to be complete by Oct 31/11. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The US Army Aviation & Missile Command, Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contract (W31P4Q-08-C-0361).
The DefenseLINK release is almost certainly referring to the AGM-114K Hellfire II missile, but Lockheed Martin spokespeople add that the contract also includes options for up to 200 training missiles, for additional orders in FY 2009 and 2010, for Foreign Military Sales buyers, and for up to 1,200 variant conversions. If exercised, those options could increase the contract’s value to over $1 billion, and secure Hellfire missile production until 2013.
To date, American forces have fired more than 6,800 Hellfires in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Lockheed Martin has delivered more than 22,000 rounds since Hellfire II production began in 1994. Lockheed Martin release.
Appendix A: A Sticky Situation: Lockheed’s 2008 (I)TAR Baby
The Hellfire missile also made the news in a different capacity. Lockheed Martin discovered that efforts to sell 460 more Hellfire missiles to the UAE in 2003-2004 had crossed the line, by failing to get proper ITAR approvals beforehand for certain discussions, and by divulging classified missile-related information to a UAE Air Force officer in response to questions.
The UAE was already a Hellfire customer at that time for its AH-64A Apache helicopters, but that does not remove the procedural requirements, and weapon export requirements are taken very seriously by all concerned.
Lockheed Martin discovered the mistakes itself, and informed the US Department of State, which manages ITAR. The final settlement involves a $4 million fine, with $1 million of that suspended if Lockheed Martin meets certain criteria for improved internal compliance measures. Reuters | NY Times’ International Herald-Tribune
Appendix B: Additional Readings
* Lockheed Martin – Hellfire II Missile
* Global Security – AGM-114 Hellfire Modular Missile System (HMMS)
* Designation Systems – Boeing/Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire
* DID – JAGM: Joint Common Missile Program Fired – But Not Forgotten. JAGM will replace AGM-114 Hellfire, *GM-71 TOW, and AGM-65 Maverick missile variants on Army and Navy helicopters, UAVs, and fighter aircraft.