Air Weapons: Hellfire Gets Better Eyesight


December 17, 2008: There is a new laser seeking warhead for Hellfire missiles, which has made more difficult shots possible, and increased the overall success of missiles fired to over 90 percent. The change is simply making the sensor able to spot the reflected laser light within a 180 degree arc, rather than 40 degrees as before. Not easy, from a technical point of view, but it's a technique that has worked well in other missile types.

The way hellfire missiles work, you have someone (in the air or on the ground using a laser designator) shine a laser light (think of a tiny, long range, laser spotlight) on the target. The invisible light bounces off the target, providing a target for the laser seeker in the front of the Hellfire missile. Thus you have to fire the missile in the direction of the "illuminated" target, and hope that the seeker picks up the reflected light. The homing part is easy. Getting the rapidly moving missile to where its sensor can pick up the reflected laser light, can be tricky. The new "P" model of the Hellfire laser seeker obviously makes it easier for all this to happen. This will allow for Hellfires to be fired from higher altitudes, and even when the aircraft has passed the target area. Users have already reported increased success because of the new seeker.



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