Air Weapons: French Hellfire For ISIL

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December 5, 2015: In early November France bought another 200 AGM-114 Hellfire II missiles for its Tiger helicopter gunships. These will cost about $146,000 each (with tech support, maintenance equipment and spare parts.) This was apparently for the Tigers serving in northern Mali.

The Tiger gunship is made by European firm Eurocopter and has seen action time in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Mali, where they have performed well. Tiger has spent over 7,500 flight hours in combat zones so far and over a hundred have been delivered. The major users are Germany, France (which has ordered 80), Spain (24), and Australia (22). A total of 206 Tiger helicopters have been ordered. So far Tigers have spent over 55,000 hours in the air, most of it for training. As a result of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris Tiger may soon be showing up in Syria and Iraq and France declaring war on ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant).  

The Tiger costs more (some models go for over $100 million, including R&D costs) than the AH-64, a ten ton gunship that has been in service since the 1980s. Tiger entered service in 2003. The six ton Tiger has a crew of two and a max speed of 280 kilometers an hour. It cruises at 230 kilometers an hour and usually stays in the air about three hours per sortie. It is armed with a 30mm automatic cannon, 70mm rocket pods (19 rockets per pod), and various types of air-to-ground missiles (eight Hellfire types at once). It can also carry four Mistral anti-aircraft missiles.

Hellfires have been the most frequently used American air-to-ground missile since the 1990s. Currently the most popular model is the AGM-114R. Introduced in 2010 this version of Hellfire is effective against armored and non-armored targets. The ones fired from UAVs usually are the R model. The Hellfire II weighs 48.2 kg (106 pounds), carries a 9 kg (20 pound) warhead, and has a range of 8,000 meters. Hellfire has been popular because it is easy to use, reliable and very effective. For what it can do, Hellfire is very cost-effective.

In addition to UAVs, the Hellfire is most commonly used by the AH-64 helicopter gunship and, at least in Iraq, on one or two engine commercial turboprop aircraft used for reconnaissance or transports. An AH-64 can carry up to sixteen Hellfires at once. As Iraq and Afghanistan discovered it’s not difficult to arm most helicopters or light transports with Hellfire. Predator, Reaper, and Sky Warrior UAVs are the best known users of Hellfire. The missile is popular for use in urban areas because the small warhead contains only about a kilogram (2 .2 pounds) of explosives and this reduces civilian casualties. The missile is accurate enough to be sent through a window (OK, you have to be really good, and lucky, to do this) because of its laser guidance. The AGM-114R has also been test fired from a ground mount (a simple tripod device).

 

 


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