While the old (1980s), reliable Hellfire missile is still the weapon of choice for UAVs and helicopters, a similar but smaller missile, the AGM-176 Griffin, has become increasingly popular for use in commando operations. In 2016 Griffin represented two percent of the bombs and missiles used by American warplanes. That was because in 2016 Griffin use increased over 40 percent compared to the previous year. That is a trend that has been building for several years even as U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has been is buying and trying other lightweight air-to-ground missile for use on its AC-130 gunships.
The Griffin remained the small missile of choice even though SOCOM introduced the SGM (small glide munition) in 2016. SGM is similar to the existing Griffin but has a larger warhead. SGM.weighs 27 kg (59 pounds) each with a 16 kg (35 pound) warhead. Using GPS and laser guidance, the SGM can glide from the AC-130 or a UAV for eight kilometers or more. Griffin is still preferred by the troops on the ground because of its smaller warhead. This is popular because commandos like to get close to where a Griffin is going to hit an enemy force, especially one inside a building. Once the Griffin goes through a window or cave entrance and detonates the commandos a few steps away can rush in and deal with survivors while grabbing data or other items and getting on with the mission.
Griffin has been in use since 2010 and became popular because weighs only 15 kg (33 pounds, or 20.5 kg/45 pounds with the launch tube) and has a 5.9 kg (13 pound) warhead. It was first used in Afghanistan and because it had GPS and laser guidance and was light and small it proved successful. The unpowered Griffin has a greater range (20 kilometers from aircraft for the B and C versions) than the rocket powered Hellfire. That’s because Griffin has pop-out wings that allow it to glide after launch. The latest version also has two way communications.
By early 2014 only about 2,000 of the Griffin missiles had been produced. Since entering service in 2010 the Griffin has been pitched as a replacement for Hellfire. But only SOCOM and the CIA have bought many, and in much smaller quantities than Hellfire, which weighs three times as much as Griffin. In early 2014 a much improved Griffin Block III was introduced. This version could hit stationary and moving targets more reliably and accurately. This was largely due to a new guidance system which still used a laser seeker but one with improved electronics. There was also an improved warhead that was more lethal against a wide range of targets. The Block III Griffin cost $90,000 each. The new version made Griffin more useful and popular, thus there were more orders.