* US Army hopes to deploy new Hellfire version soon
* "One missile for many missions," manufacturer says
* Combines killing capabilities of all previous models
By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON, Oct 14 A precision-strike missile
that has been a star of the U.S.-led war on al Qaeda and its
allies is about to get deadlier.
The cylindrical, 108-pound (49-kg) missile, known as
Hellfire II, has been the weapon of choice on remotely piloted
aircraft such as the General Atomics MQ-1A Predator and the
These drones have been hunting U.S. foes in Afghanistan,
Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistani tribal areas. Among the
recent targets of a CIA-operated drone was U.S.-born cleric
Anwar al-Awlaki, who was a top U.S. anti-terrorist target until
he was killed in northern Yemen on Sept. 30.
Now an even more lethal version of the missile is close to
It wraps all of the killer applications of previous
Hellfire II models into a single warhead for greater
operational flexibility, according to its maker, Lockheed
Martin Corp .
"One missile for many missions," said a promotional sheet
next to a Lockheed missile mock-up at an annual meeting and
arms bazaar of the Association of the United States Army, held
in Washington this week.
The new missile is designated the AGM-114R, or Hellfire
Romeo. Tipped with a "multi-purpose" warhead behind its domed
nose, it is designed to knock out "hard, soft and enclosed
targets" with a single Hellfire missle load, says Lockheed,
the Pentagon's No. 1 supplier by sales.
Lockheed said in March that fielding of the new version had
been scheduled for late next year.
Dan O'Boyle, a spokesman for the U.S. Army office that
manages Hellfire missile purchases at Redstone Arsenal in
Alabama, said: "We look forward to fielding the 'R' model
soon." Testing remains under way.
GREATER RANGE OF TARGETS
It will provide U.S. forces with safety and reliability
improvements as well as the ability to engage multiple target
classes with a single missile variant, he added in an email.
The "R" version's warhead combines the shaped-charge
anti-armour capability of the initial anti-tank version with
the enhanced effects of fragmentation, blast/fragmentation and
heat/blast/overpressure built into later models.
"This means that it can be used against a far greater range
of targets," said Gareth Jennings, managing editor at Jane's
Missiles & Rockets, an authoritative yearbook.
"Before you would have to employ a specific missile-type to
take out a particular kind of target -- tank, truck, foot
soldier," he said. "This allows the aircraft to engage 'targets
of opportunity' as they appear on the battlefield."
In August al Qaeda's second-in-command, Atiyah abd
al-Rahman was killed in a drone strike in northwest Pakistan.
Ilyas Kashmiri, an alleged leader of both al Qaeda and one
of its Pakistan-based affiliates, was killed in a suspected
U.S. drone strike in June.
The new version also will be able to be fired at "off-bore"
targets for the first time, meaning the aircraft or helicopter
does not have to be pointing at the target to acquire it,
Hellfire, a loose arcronym for Heliborne, Laser, Fire and
Forget, is the primary air-to-ground missile system for the
U.S. armed forces, the Central Intelligence Agency's
paramilitary capabilities and many allied nations.
The new missile, like its predecessors, can be launched
from a range of platforms in the air, at sea or on the ground.
It uses a designator spot laser that can lock on to its target
before or after launch.
Export deliveries of air-launched Hellfire missiles have
been made to Australia, Egypt, France, Greece, Iraq, Israel,
Japan, Lebanon, South Korea, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Saudi
Arabia, Spain, Singapore, Taiwan, Turkey, the United Arab
Emirates and the United Kingdom, according to Jane's.
Another version has gone to Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait
and the Netherlands. In 1987, Sweden ordered a coastal defence
variant, local designation RBS-17, and Norway ordered similar
missiles in 1994, the yearbook said.