AGM-114 Hellfire
A model of Longbow Hellfire's components
TypeAir-to-surface and surface-to-surface missile
Place of originUnited States
Service history
In service1984–present
Wars1991 Gulf War
War on Terror
Russian Invasion of Ukraine
Production history
ManufacturerLockheed Martin, Boeing (prior second source), and Northrop Grumman (seeker only for AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire)
Unit costUS$150,000[1] (FY 2021)
US$117,000 (FY2017)[2]
Mass100–108 lb (45–49 kg)[3]
Length64 in (1.6 m)
Diameter7 in (180 mm)
Wingspan13 in (0.33 m)

EngineThiokol TX-657[4][5]
Solid-fuel rocket
550 to 12,030 yd (0.5 to 11 km)
Maximum speed Mach 1.3 (995 mph; 1,601 km/h)
Rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft, unmanned combat aerial vehicles, tripods, ships, ground vehicles

The AGM-114 Hellfire is an American air-to-surface missile (ASM) first developed for anti-armor use,[6] later developed for precision[7] drone strikes against other target types, especially high-value targets.[8] It was originally developed under the name "Heliborne laser, fire-and-forget missile", which led to the colloquial name "Hellfire" ultimately becoming the missile's formal name.[9] It has a multi-mission, multi-target precision-strike ability and can be launched from multiple air, sea, and ground platforms, including the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper. The Hellfire missile is the primary 100-pound (45 kg) class air-to-ground precision weapon for the armed forces of the United States and many other countries. It has also been fielded on surface platforms in the surface-to-surface and surface-to-air roles.[10]


Most variants are laser-guided, with one variant, the AGM-114L "Longbow Hellfire", being radar-guided.[11][12] Laser guidance can be provided either from the launcher, such as the nose-mounted opto-electronics of the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, other airborne target designators or from ground-based observers,[13] the latter two options allowing the launcher to break line of sight with the target and seek cover.[14]

Cockpit video showing a Hellfire missile being fired at two people in Afghanistan (at 1:42)

The development of the Hellfire Missile System began in 1974 with the United States Army requirement for a "tank-buster", launched from helicopters to defeat armored fighting vehicles.[15][16]

The Hellfire II, developed in the early 1990s is a modular missile system with several variants, and entered service with the U.S. Army in 1996.[17] Hellfire II's semi-active laser variants—AGM-114K high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT), AGM-114KII with external blast fragmentation sleeve, AGM-114M (blast fragmentation), and AGM-114N metal augmented charge (MAC)—achieve pinpoint accuracy by homing in on a reflected laser beam aimed at the target. The General Atomics MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) carry the Hellfire II, but the most common platform is the AH-1Z Viper helicopter gunship, which can carry up to 16 of them. The AGM-114L, or Longbow Hellfire, is a fire-and-forget weapon: equipped with millimeter-wave (MMW) active radar homing, it requires no further guidance after launch—even being able to lock on to its target after launch[18]—and can hit its target without the launcher or other friendly unit being in line of sight of the target. It also works in adverse weather and battlefield obscurants, such as smoke and fog, which can mask the position of a target or prevent a designating laser from forming a detectable reflection. Each Hellfire weighs 104 pounds (47 kg), including the 20-pound (9 kg) warhead, and has a range of 4.4–6.8 miles (7.1–11 km) depending on trajectory.[19] The Hellfire has a Circular Error Probable (CEP) of less than 3 feet (0.91 m).[20]

The AGM-114R "Romeo" Hellfire II entered service in late 2012. It uses a semi-active laser homing guidance system and a K-charge multipurpose warhead[21][22] to engage targets that formerly needed multiple Hellfire variants. It will replace AGM-114K, M, N, and P variants in U.S. service.[23]

In October 2012, the U.S. ordered 24,000 Hellfire II missiles, for both the U.S. armed forces and foreign customers.[24]

A possible new JCM successor called the Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM) is under consideration. Due to budget reductions, JAGM development was separated into increments, with increment 1 focusing on adding a millimeter-wave radar to the Hellfire-R to give it a dual-mode seeker, enabling it to track moving targets in bad weather.[25][26]

Operational history

See also: Drone strikes in Pakistan and Drone strikes in Yemen

M1A1 Abrams main battle tank destroyed by friendly fire in 1991 Gulf War; one Abrams is thought to have been accidentally set on fire by a Hellfire missile fired from an Apache helicopter.[27]

In 2009, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) acknowledged that Army Air Corps (AAC) AgustaWestland Apaches had used AGM-114N Hellfire missiles against Taliban forces in Afghanistan. The MoD stated that 20 missiles were used in 2008 and a further 20 in 2009. In the British Parliament, Liberal Democrat politician Nick Harvey argued that the "Parliament must be reassured these are a weapon of last resort."[28]

AGM-114 Hellfire missiles were used to kill Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) in 2004,[29][30] and by the US military to kill American-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011,[31] Al-Qaeda operative Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan in 2012, al-Shabaab militant Mukhtar Abu Zubair in Somalia in 2014,[32] and British ISIL executioner Mohammed Emwazi (also known as "Jihadi John") in Syria in 2015.[33] They were also used in the assassination of Qasem Soleimani as well as the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri.[34]

The AGM-114 has occasionally been used as an air-to-air missile. The first operational air-to-air kill with a Hellfire took place on 24 May 2001, after 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. An Israeli Air Force AH-64A Apache helicopter fired on the Cessna, resulting in its complete disintegration.[35][36] The second operational air-to-air kill with a Hellfire occurred on 10 February 2018, after an Iranian UAV entered Israeli airspace from Syria. An Israeli Air Force AH-64 launched a Hellfire missile at the UAV, successfully destroying it.[37][third-party source needed]

In January 2016 The Wall Street Journal reported that one training missile without a warhead was accidentally shipped to Cuba in 2014 after a training mission in Europe;[38] it was later returned.[39] A US official said that this was an inert "dummy" version of the Lockheed system stripped of its warhead, fuse, guidance equipment and motor, known as a "Captive Air Training Missile".[40][41]


This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "AGM-114 Hellfire" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (January 2016) (Learn how and when to remove this message)
AGM-114 Ground Launched Hellfire-Light (GLH-L) missile system on a modified HMMWV chassis
Israeli Air Force Squadron 190 AH-64A Peten Launched Hellfire missile, Gaza–Israel clashes (November 2018)
  • Produced: 1982–1992
  • Target: Armored vehicles, ship-borne targets
  • Range: 8,700 yd (8,000 m)
  • Guidance:
    • Semi-active laser homing (SALH)
    • Non-programmable
    • Analog autopilot
  • Warhead: 18 lb (8 kg) shaped charge HEAT. Unable to penetrate reactive armor.[44]
  • Length: 64 in (163 cm)
  • Weight: 100 lb (45 kg)
AGM-114F/FA Interim Hellfire
  • Produced: 1991[45]–1994[13]
  • Target: Armored vehicles
  • Range: 8,700 yd (8,000 m)
  • Guidance:
    • Semi-active laser homing (SALH)
    • Non-programmable
    • Analog autopilot
  • Warhead: 18 lb (8 kg) shaped charge HEAT. Tandem-charge, can penetrate reactive armor.[44]
  • Length: 64 in (163 cm)
  • Weight: 100 lb (45 kg)
AGM-114K/K2/K2A Hellfire II
  • Produced: since 1993–2018[46]
  • Target: All armored targets
  • Range: 12,000 yd (11,000 m)
  • Guidance:
    • Semi-active laser homing with electro-optical countermeasures hardening
    • Digital autopilot & electronics improvements allow target reacquisition after lost laser lock
  • Warhead: 20 lb (9 kg) tandem shaped charge HEAT
  • Length: 64 in (163 cm)
  • Weight: 100 lb (45 kg)
  • K-2 adds insensitive munitions (IM)
  • K-2A adds blast-fragmentation sleeve
AGM-114L Hellfire LongBow
  • Produced: 1995–2005, 2016–[46][47]
  • Target: All armored targets
  • Range: 8,700 yd (8,000 m)
  • Guidance:
    • Fire and forget millimeter-wave (MMW) radar seeker coupled with inertial guidance
    • Homing capability in adverse weather and the presence of battlefield obscurants
    • Programmable fusing and guidance
  • Warhead: 20 lb (9 kg) tandem shaped charge high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) insensitive munitions (IM) warhead
  • Length: 71 in (180 cm)
  • Weight: 108 lb (49 kg)
  • L-7/8A Counter-UAS/counter-littoral variants with proximity fuze and blast-fragmentation sleeve[47]
AGM-114M Hellfire II (Blast Frag)
  • Produced: 1998–2010
  • Target: Bunkers, light vehicles, urban (soft) targets and caves
  • Range: 12,000 yd (11,000 m)
  • Guidance:
    • Semi-active laser homing
    • Delayed and programmable fusing in for hardened targets
  • Warhead: Blast fragmentation/incendiary
  • Weight: 108 lb (49 kg)
  • Length: 71 in (180 cm)
AGM-114N Hellfire (MAC)[48]
Hellfire II missile exposed through a transparent casing, showing laser homing guidance system in front, copper cone shaped charge explosive in middle, propulsion in the rear
  • Produced: 2003–2018[46]
  • Target: Buildings, soft-skinned targets, ship-borne targets
  • Range: 12,000 yd (11,000 m)
  • Guidance:
    • Semi-active laser homing
    • Millimeter-wave radar seeker
  • Warhead: Metal augmented charge (thermobaric), sustained pressure wave with delayed fuse capability
  • Weight: 106 lb (48 kg)
  • Speed: Mach 1.3 (1,600 km/h)
  • Diameter: 7.1 in (180 mm)
  • Wingspan: 13 in (0.33 m)
  • Length: 5 ft 4 in (1.63 m)
AGM-114P/P+ Hellfire II (For UAS)
  • Produced: 2003–2012
  • Target: All surface targets
  • Range: 12,000 yd (11,000 m)
  • Guidance:
    • Semi-active laser homing
    • Delayed and programmable fusing in for hardened targets
  • Warhead: Shaped Charge or Blast Fragmentation
  • Weight: 108 lb (49 kg)
  • Length: 71 in (180 cm)
  • Designed for UAV altitudes
  • P-2A adds steel fragmentation sleeve
  • P-2B adds tantalum fragmentation sleeve
  • P+ Adds enhanced inertial measurement unit (IMU) and software support, many customizations for varying battlefields.
AGM-114R Hellfire II (Hellfire Romeo)[49]
  • Produced: since 2012
  • Target: All targets
  • Range: 8,700 yd (8,000 m) [46]
  • Guidance:
    • Semi-active laser homing
  • Warhead: Multi-function warhead, reduced net explosive weight for low collateral damage (R-9E and R-9H).
  • Weight: 108 lb (49 kg)
  • Speed: Mach 1.3
  • Length: 71 in (180 cm)[42]
  • Unit Cost: $99,600 (all-up round, 2015 USD)[50]
M36 Captive Flight Training Missile
The M36 is an inert device used for training in the handling of the Hellfire. It includes an operational laser seeker.[51]
The Hellfire R9X is a Hellfire variant with a kinetic warhead with pop-out blades instead of explosives, used against specific human targets. Its lethality is due to 100 lb (45 kg) of dense material with six blades flying at high speed, to crush and cut the targeted person[52] — the R9X has also been referred to as the 'Ninja Missile'[53] and 'Flying Ginsu'.[52] It is intended to reduce collateral damage when targeting specific people.[54] Deployed in secret in 2017, its existence has been public since 2019. This variant was used in the killing in 2017 of Abu Khayr al-Masri, a member of Al-Qaeda's leadership, and in 2019 of Jamal Ahmad Mohammad Al Badawi, accused mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombing.[55][56] The weapon has also been used in Syria,[57] and in Afghanistan against a Taliban commander.[58][59] It was used twice in 2020 against senior al-Qaeda leaders in Syria; in September 2020 US officials estimated that it had been used in combat around six times.[60][61][62][63][64]
Hellfire missiles fired by a Reaper drone[65] were used on 31 July 2022 to kill Ayman al-Zawahiri,[7] the leader of Al-Qaeda, who had formerly been involved in planning the 9/11 and other attacks on US targets. It was reported that the missile hit him on a balcony, causing minimal collateral damage. Reports stress that avoiding other casualties was a priority for the mission, following drone attacks that killed several uninvolved people, attracting much criticism. It is widely thought that the Hellfires were the R9X variant, but a United States Special Operations Command spokesman declined to comment, while confirming that the R9X was "in US Special Operations Command's munitions inventory".[66][67]
Images of the aftermath of a US attack on a member of Khataib Hezbollah (claimed to be Abu Baqir al-Saadi by Hezbollah affiliated reports) suggests an R9X was used.[68] The nature and announcement of the attack has led Howard Altman to suggest the weapon system is made more widely available to US forces.[68]

Launch vehicles and systems

Manned helicopters

Hellfire missiles on a United States Marine Corps AH-1W Super Cobra

Fixed-wing aircraft

Iraqi Air Force AC-208 Caravan launches a Hellfire missile


AGM-114L launch from USS Montgomery

Ground vehicles

Experimental platforms

IFPC Longbow vs MQM-170 Outlaw 25 March 2016

The system has been tested for use on the Humvee and the Improved TOW Vehicle (ITV). Test shots have also been fired from a C-130 Hercules. Sweden and Norway use the Hellfire for coastal defense and have conducted tests with Hellfire launchers mounted on the Combat Boat 90 coastal assault boat.[77]

The US Navy was evaluating the missile for use on the Freedom-class littoral combat ship and Independence-class littoral combat ship from 2014.[78] The missile was successfully fired from a LCS in early 2017[79] This system is set to deploy by late 2019.[80]

In 2016 the Longbow Hellfire was tested by the US Army using a 15-tube Multi-Mission Launcher mounted on a Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) truck. The MML is an Army-developed weapon system capable of deploying both surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles.[81]


Map with Hellfire operators in blue

The following countries have used the Hellfire:[82]

See also


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