The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency has approved a request by the UK to purchase 1,000 Hellfire missiles.

The £120m sale covers 1,000 AGM-114-R1/R2 Hellfire missiles with logistics support services and ‘other related support’.

According to the agency:

“The proposed sale improves the UK’s capability to meet current and future threats by providing close air support to counter enemy attacks on coalition ground forces in the US Central Command area of responsibility and other areas, as needed.

The UK already has Hellfire missiles in its inventory and will have no difficulty absorbing these additional missiles.”

The system provides heavy anti-armour capability for attack helicopters and Remotely Piloted Air Systems, the missile has a range of 8km and a 9kg warhead.

Since being fielded, the missiles have been used in combat around the globe and have been been fired from Apache and Super Cobra attack helicopters, Kiowa scout helicopters, and Predator and Reaper unmanned aircraft.


  1. Bit of a surprise this one.

    Why are we not using Brimstone instead. It seems to be a similar and in most ways better product and Hellfire is a direct competitor.

    If we are serious about exporting – then these kind of decisions need to be taken more carefully.

    Other than that – good to see the UK buying a good stock of missiles.

  2. Also hellfire is what is integrated into the tank busting apache longbow. 16 hellfire represent a full weapons load. So 1000 missiles is actually not that many. The apache fleet will quickly use those up in any high intensity conflict.

  3. Gents,

    Understood, and that’s kind of the point – we are now running 2 missiles that are essentially the same, which equals inefficiency.

    Yet another example of lack of foresight – if we are going to spend loads of money developing brimstone then realistically we need to buy in large volumes and standardise our fleet onto it, to go with the (at the time) inferior hellfire as it is part of US based combat systems we are purchasing.

    Again – we are caught in the middle and perhaps we should work with LM to have a missile facility in the UK and ditch MDBA, although I think this would be a great shame I just cant see us having enough budget for both and it could have meant us having MK41’s and tomahawks on the T45 fleet by now if we weren’t so conflicted on being part of a European Defense industry that frankly is too fragmented and nationalistic.

    • “we are now running 2 missiles that are essentially the same, which equals inefficiency.”

      Very true.

      Sure, even the very name “Hellfire & Brimstone” articulate that the two missiles share a common heritage.

      Open to correction, but I think the UK wanted a more sophisticated all-weather ability so integrated the millimeter wave radar into it, (laser guidance being very weather dependent).

      However now that Hellfire also now has this ability then there really seems little difference between the two products so it does seem like a bit of a duplication.

      So much so with the advent of the long-range ‘Spear 3’ evolution of Brimstone I expect there to be a “Hellfire-Extended Range” within a few years so similar has the products been.

      • Costs are a bit of a slippery one in this matter I think. It has taken quite some time and cost to incorporate Brimstone even into the Typhoon fleet which I believe isn’t fully integrated yet but will be before the Tornados go out of service. Work is also taking place with the F35 so plenty of work is is already under way.

        As the drones were made to take Hellfire, integrating those would be more costly no doubt than buying off the shelf Hellfire for the sake of some extra flexibility in action. From what I read a lot depends on General Atomics doing the integration work (which is has done for potential incorporation for the US fleet) and though they have conducted successful tests there is a lot of resistance to incorporating a European missile when the Hellfire is available, even if there are some technical advantages. The Protector might be a better option for integration if the money is available I suspect.

      • There are some major differences:

        – Brimstone 2 is IM compliant, not all Hellfire are.
        – Brimstone’s MMW targetting mode is much more sophisticated than the L variant of Hellfire. Killboxes, safe modes and targeting algorithms are all more advanced.
        – Brimstone is either MMW (legacy) or dual mode (MMW or SAL). No Hellfire variant has dual mode. Dual mode makes targeting a lot easier, and safer, due to latency issues from UCAV’s in particular.
        – Brimstone can be fired from fast jets. Hellfire can’t. Brimstone will eventually be used on all platforms, Hellfire will never do that.
        – Range – Brimstone 2 has a range over 60km when launched from a fast mover. Thats over 6 times further than Hellfire 2. Brimstone 1 is 2-3 times longer ranged.
        – Hellfire is out of production in 2020. JAGM is taking it’s place. JAGM is the US equivalent to Brimstone, without the extreme range.

        Spear 3 is a much different beast. It uses some Brimstone tech (think seeker) but has a bigger warhead and over twice the range of Brimstone 2 (over 120km range). There is no Hellfire that has a tenth of that range. The US equivalent is the SDB II. That has a similar warhead but much lower range than Spear as it is glide only, no turbojet. If Spear works as advertised, and because it’s using Brimstone tech we can be pretty sure it will, it will be world beating, nothing else will be as good.

  4. There’s another article on this site about Spear 3 and the same could be said about that, great product but if we aren’t willing to go full tilt on it and get it into the F35b and everything else then why not go with the Norwegian missile or some of the other proposed solutions.

    It does amaze me how the Nordic countries seem able to do this stuff on a small scale and make it work. We should probably go down that route, but I must admit that I am looking at this through a cost lens and do not really know what it does for uk industry.

    • I think Spear 3 is still intended to be integrated with F-35B for internal carriage (4 per weapon bay, 8 in total) in the block 4 software update (block 3F is the one currently being worked on) so it is being given pretty high priority. As long as things don’t slip then Spear 3 & F-35B plans seem pretty good to me. Always with the caveats that something doesn’t change and politicians don’t meddle but right now Spear 3 does look like a program that is solid and heading in the right direction at at least a somewhat acceptable speed although one can always wish for things to go faster.

      If by “the Norwegian missile” you mean the JSM (and NSM for ships) then that is a totally different class of missile, much heavier and closer to Storm Shadow or Harpoon than Brimstone or Hellfire. Spear 3 is about twice the weight of Brimstone so bigger but it’s still a quarter of the weight of JSM and probably about one eight or the warhead size. Sadly not even one JSM will fit in an F-35B internal weapons bay because it is too long. I believe it is being certified for internal carriage on F-35A and C; not sure what the story is on external carriage which would presumably make it an option for F-35B.

      I do agree with you that JSM/NSM is something that we should be looking at seriously but in my view it should be as well as Spear 3 and not instead of.

      • NSM / JSM sorts out a lot of problems for the RAF and RN. We’re best mates with the Norgies so for me its a no-brainer. We should do a deal with them. They buy Meteor and Spear 3 we then buy NSM/JSM. We’ll be pushing at an open door with Meteor and Spear 3 as it was the Norwegians who have had issues with Amraam’s in cold weather Spear 3 helps address their concerns around Russian AD systems. For the UK NSM/JSM makes a lot of sense. It addresses the Harpoon withdrawal on surface vessels with additional land attack capability, a sub-launched version is being developed as well which could bring back the capability lost with the withdrawl of sub-Harpoon. The P-8 integration is being funded by the Norgies, JSM integration with F-35 by the Norgies and Australians. That would address the ASM capability for the RN and RAF. The only thing we’d need to do then is integrate it with Typhoon, which a mid-east customer has already shown interest in. The only sad thing is JSM and NSM being slightly different missiles. If we could have a surface launched JSM it would be perfect.


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