Air Weapons: Hellfire In Lebanon


June 13, 2015: Lebanon has ordered a thousand AGM-114 Hellfire II missiles. These will cost about $146,000 each (with tech support, maintenance equipment and spare parts.) This is largely because in 2014 the U.S. gave Lebanon several hundred Hellfires for use on the Cessna Caravan 208B transport aircraft also provided in 2012. This was part of an international effort to rearm the Lebanese armed forces, which is currently outgunned by Hezbollah (an Iranian supported radical Shia militia and terror group that controls most of southern Lebanon) and the growing number of al Qaeda and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) terrorists showing up on the border.

The Hellfire is widely known in the Moslem world, but the Cessna 208B much less so. Yet without something like the 208B many countries have no easy way to use a Hellfire. The U.S. has earlier supplied Afghanistan and Iraq with the 208B, which is used as a flight trainer, transport, and light attack aircraft. The U.S. helped Iraq equip several 208Bs with laser targeting equipment and launchers so the 208Bs could use Hellfire missiles. The 208B is a large, single engine, aircraft that can carry up to 14 passengers or 1.3 tons of cargo. It is relatively cheap and is already popular as a passenger/cargo aircraft in remote parts of the planet. The U.S. supplied Afghanistan and Iraq with dozens of these "light transports." The four ton 208B has a cruising speed of 317 kilometers an hour and can stay in the air for about six hours per sortie. The 208 has been in service since the mid-1980s and over 2,000 have been built. New ones cost about $2 million each but there are lots of much cheaper used 208Bs out there.

Hellfires have been the most frequently used American air-to-ground missilesince 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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