Tag Archives: Hellfire missiles

Celebration of drones, the Hellfire Missile

A precision-strike missile that has been a star of the US-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 MQ-9 Reaper.  These drones have been hunting US foes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistani tribal areas. Among the recent targets of a CIA-operated drone was US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was a top US 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 being fielded.  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 US Army office that manages Hellfire missile purchases at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, said: “We look forward to fielding the ‘R’ model soon.”……

“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.”….Hellfire, a loose arcronym for Heliborne, Laser, Fire and Forget, is the primary air-to-ground missile system for the US armed forces, the Central Intelligence Agency’s paramilitary capabilities and many allied nations.

Excerpt, US to field deadlier missile in war againt al Qaeda, Reuters, Oct. 15, 2011

Raw Drones

The United States and Britain are the biggest users of drones in Afghanistan with a fleet of unmanned reconnaissance vehicles and hunter-killers.  Both air forces have made thousands of sorties. The U.S. has used MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones to attack insurgent homes and training grounds in North Waziristan, Pakistan, where there are reports of a high number of civilian casualties.  Recently, the Royal Air Force announced that it was forming a dedicated UAV squadron to pilot a fleet of 10 U.S.-designed Reaper attack drones. The Reaper is capable of carrying up to 14 Hellfire missiles and smart bombs. It can stay airborne for up to 28 hours and climb to more than 7,500 metres.

Both the American and British UAV squads control their Afghanistan missions from a bunker in Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The U.K. Reapers have flown 23,400 hours and fired 176 missiles and laser-guided bombs. The United States has reportedly launched more than 250 attacks since 2004 in Pakistan alone.

A rising concern is civilian deaths.  On March 24, a U.K. Reaper killed four Afghan civilians and injured two others when it attacked two pickup trucks in Helmand province. The trucks contained explosives but an investigation into the attack revealed they were also carrying civilians.  So-called friendly fire, which is always a problem in war, may be increased with drones. In April, a U.S. Predator drone killed a U.S. Marine and a Navy medic in Helmand province with a missile when they were mistaken for insurgents. Several years ago, a fully armed U.S. drone went haywire and started flying toward Tajikistan. The U.S. air force scrambled a manned fighter and shot it down just before it reached the border.

Attack drones have proved effective in following armed insurgents to their hiding places and then killing them with missiles.  In one case, a U.S. drone tracked insurgents to a hole in a mud wall from where they fired on coalition forces. The drone destroyed the wall with a missile, killing the insurgents.

Civilian casualties a concern with drones, Vancouver Sun, July 23, 2011