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Pentagon Ramps Up HELLFIREs to Attack ISIS as US Helicopters Join Fight

US Apache helicopter attacks against ISIS are further leading the Pentagon to rev up HELLFIRE Missile deliveries and production plans in order to keep pace with the prospect of continued attacks and better anticipate combat needs for the future. 

"U.S. Apache helicopters conducted the first strike against a Da'esh target in Iraq in support of Iraqi Security Forces in the Tigris River Valley June 12. The Government of Iraq approved the use of Apaches in support of ISF operations. The strike was vetted and approved through the same process the Coalition uses for all strikes. The Apache strike destroyed a Da'esh vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) near Qayyarah, Iraq," Christopher Sherwood, a Department of Defense spokesman, told Scout Warrior. 

Concurrently, ongoing U.S. and allied drone, helicopter and aircraft attacks against ISIS have led the Army to massively rev up its production of air-launched HELLFIRE missiles, a weapon regularly used to destroy Islamic State buildings, bunkers, armored vehicles, fighter positions and equipment.

The war against ISIS has depleted existing inventory of the weapon and generated a fast-growing national and international demand for HELLFIRE missiles, Army officials told Scout Warrior.

“Production of HELLFIRE has increased for quantities ordered in Fiscal Year 14 and Fiscal Year 15,” Dan O’Boyle, spokesman for Program Executive Office Missiles and Space, said in a written statement.

As the principle manufacturer of HELLFIRE missiles, the Army provides the weapon to national and international entities to include the Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy arsenals, among others. Overall, there as many as 15 or more international customers using HELLFIRE missiles, many of them partners in the U.S.-led coalition to destroy ISIS.

(This first appeared in Scout Warrior here.) 

While Army officials did not provide specific numbers of production increases or plans to provide particular allied nations with HELLFIREs, the Pentagon has requested $1.8 billion in its 2017 budget for munitions, bombs and missiles needed to replenish or maintain stockpiles and sustain the attacks against ISIS.

In service since the 1970s, HELLFIRE missiles originated as 100-pound tank-killing, armor piercing weapons engineered to fire from helicopters to destroy enemy armored vehicles, bunkers and other fortifications.

In more recent years, the emergence of news sensors, platforms and guidance technologies have enabled the missile to launch strikes with greater precision against a wider envelope of potential enemy targets.

HELLFIRE Missile Technologies and Platforms:

These days, the weapon is primarily fired from attack drones such as the Air Force Predator and Reaper and the Army’s Gray Eagle; naturally, the HELLFIRE is also used by the Army’s AH-64 Apache Attack helicopter, OH-58 Kiowa Warriors and AH-1 Marine Corps Super Cobras, among others. Although not much is known about when, where or who -- HELLFIREs are also regularly used in U.S. drone strikes using Air Force Predators and Reapers against terrorist targets around the globe.

The HELLFIRE missile can use radio frequency, RF, guidance – referred to as “fire and forget” – or semi-active laser technology. A ground target can be designated or “painted” by a laser spot from the aircraft firing the weapon, another aircraft or ground spotter illuminating the target for the weapon to destroy.

There are multiple kinds of HELLFIRE warheads to include a High-Explosive Anti-Tank, or HEAT, weapon and a Blast-Fragmentation explosive along with several others. The HEAT round uses what’s called a “tandem warhead” with both a smaller and larger shaped charge; the idea is to achieve the initial requisite effect before detonating a larger explosion to maximize damage to the target.

The “Blast-Frag” warhead is a laser-guided penetrator weapon with a hardened steel casing, incendiary pellets designed for enemy ships, bunkers, patrol boats and things like communications infrastructure, Army documents explain.

The “Metal Augmented Charge” warhead improves upon the “Blast-Frag” weapon by adding metal fuel to the missile designed to increase the blast overpressure inside bunkers, ships and multi-room targets, Army information says. The “Metal Augmented Charge” is penetrating, laser-guided and also used for attacks on bridges, air defenses and oil rigs. The missile uses blast effects, fragmentation and overpressure to destroy targets.

The AGM-114L HELLFIRE is designed for the Longbow Apache attack helicopter platform; the weapon uses millimeter-wave technology, radar, digital signal processing and inertial measurement units to “lock-on” to a target before or after launch.

The AGM-114R warhead is described as a “Multi-Purpose” explosive used for anti-armor, anti-personnel and urban targets; the weapon uses a Micro-Electro Mechanical System Inertial Measurement Unit for additional flight guidance along with a delayed fuse in order to penetrate a target before exploding in order to maximize damage inside an area.

The AGM-114R or “Romeo” variant, which is the most modern in the arsenal, integrates a few additional technologies such as all-weather millimeter wave guidance technology and a fragmentation-increasing metal sleeve configured around the outside of the missile.

The “Multi-Purpose” warhead is a dual mode weapon able to use both a shaped charge along with a fragmentation sleeve. The additional casing is designed to further disperse “blast-effects” with greater fragmentation in order to be more effective against small groups of enemy fighters.

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