The AGM-114 Hellfire is an air-to-surface missile (ASM) developed primarily for anti-armor use. It has multi-mission, multi-target precision-strike capability, and can be launched from multiple air, sea, and ground platforms. The Hellfire missile is the primary 100 lb-class air-to-ground precision weapon for the armed forces of the United States and many other nations, and is considered a proven tactical missile system, as it has been used in combat since the mid-1980s.
The Hellfire is a comprehensive weapon system that can be deployed from rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft, waterborne vessels and land-based systems against a variety of targets.
The development of the Hellfire Missile System began in 1974 with the U.S. Army requirement for a "tank-buster", launched from helicopters to defeat armored fighting vehicles. Production of the AGM-114A started in 1982. The Development Test and Evaluation (DT&E) launch phase of the AGM-114B took place in 1984. The DT&E on the AGM-114K was completed in Fiscal Year (FY)93 and FY94. AGM-114M did not require a DT&E because it is the same as the AGM-114K except for the warhead. Most variants are laser guided with one, AGM-114L "Longbow Hellfire", being radar guided. Laser guidance can be provided either from the launcher, such as the nose-mounted opto-electronics of theAH-64 Apache attack helicopter, other airborne target designators or from ground based observers, the latter two options allowing the launcher to break line of sight with the target and seek cover.
Since being fielded, Hellfire missiles have been used in combat in Operation Just Cause in Panama, Operation Desert Storm in Persian Gulf, Operation Allied Force in Yugoslavia,Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, where they have been fired from Apache and Super Cobra attack helicopters, Kiowa scout helicopters, and Predator unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs).
The only known operational air-to-air kill with a Hellfire took place on 24 May 2001. A civilian Cessna 152 aircraft entered Israeli airspace from Lebanon, with unknown intentions and refusing to answer or comply with ATC repeated warnings to turn back. Fearing a terrorist attack, an Israeli Air Force AH-64A helicopter fired upon the Cessna, resulting in its complete disintegration, and the death of Estephan Nicolian, a student pilot.
In 2008, the usage of the AGM-114N variant caused controversy in the United Kingdom when it was reported that these thermobaric munitions were added to the British Army arsenal. Thermobaric weapons have been condemned by human rights groups. The UK Ministry of Defence refers to the AGM-114N as an "enhanced blast weapon".
The AGM-114 has been the munition of choice for airborne targeted killings that have included high-profile figures such as Ahmed Yassin (Hamas leader) in 2004 by the Israeli Air Force and; Anwar al-Awlaki (American-born Islamic cleric and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader) in Yemen in 2011, and Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan in 2012 by the United States.