21/05/2013 by Paul Fiddian - Armed Forces International's Lead Reporter
The British Army is getting more AGM-114 Hellfire supersonic air-launched missiles from manufacturer Lockheed Martin, it's been announced. The Hellfires will be used to equip the British Army's Apache AH1 attack helicopters, supplementing those already in service, and the contract value is £15m.
In British Army service, the Hellfire air-to-ground missile has seen extensive operational use. Recently deployed during NATO's Libyan no-fly zone enforcement sorties, during which British Army Apaches launched from HMS Ocean, it's also been used in Afghanistan.
"Hellfire has proved itself in Afghanistan and Libya, providing our Apache crews with state of the art precision firepower", explained the UK Minister for Defence Equipment Support & Technology, Philip Dunne, adding: "This order will ensure the Apache's attack capability remains in place for current and future operations."
British Army Apache Hellfires
Each British Army Apache Hellfire missile complement extends to 16 examples, arranged in groups of four. Twinned to each of these missiles is a guidance system, to enhance their precision strike capability.
First introduced in 1984, the AGM-114 Hellfire is a staple of modern warfare. Able to be launched from a variety of airborne platforms include combat aircraft, helicopter and UAVs, it has a top speed of Mach 1.3 and a maximum range of five miles.
A recent Hellfire development is the AGM-114R 'Romeo' Hellfire II, equipped with a semi-active laser homing guidance system. No less than 24,000 of these upgraded Hellfires are now being produced, both for domestic and foreign customers.
AGM-114 Hellfire Missile
In related news, it's been reported that the RAF's MQ-9 Reaper UAVs are set to be fitted with heavily-modified Hellfire missiles. Initial Reaper UAV missile launch trials are tentatively scheduled for late 2013 and they'll involved the MBDA Brimstone weapon, whose roots lie in the AGM-114 Hellfire missile.
These Reapers already have the capacity to launch Hellfires, along with GBU-12 laser-guided bombs.
The RAF ultimately plans to have 10 Reapers in service, split between RAF Waddington-based No. 13 Squadron and No.39 Squadron, which operates from Nevada's Creech Air Force Base.