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Monday, December 26, 2016

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Weapons of the War in Afghanistan: Air-to-Surface Missiles & Rockets, Part 1

Weapons of the War in Afghanistan

In the world of war, weapons and technology are ever changing, each war is characterized by the weapons and tactics used to fight it. As new environments and enemies are encountered, the parties to those wars develop new - more effective tactics, technologies, and weapons to counter and defeat their adversaries. The ingenuity seen in war has existed since (and most certainly before) the first wars of recorded history and continue to this very day. 

Keeping with that theory, let’s take a look at the weapons that have characterized the wars and conflicts that the United States has been a party to over the course of it’s history. During the course of this series, I aim to breakdown the weapons used in each conflict by their classification, and to which party they were employed by. Having served in combat operations in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, I would like to start our series with the War in Afghanistan. 

For our eighteenth installment let's take a look at the most common Air-to-Surface Missiles & Rockets used in the War in Afghanistan.


Part I: The United States

AGM-114 Hellfire

The AGM-114 Hellfire is an air-to-surface missile (ASM) first developed for anti-armor use, but later models were developed for precision strikes against other target types, and have been used in a number of targeted killings of high-profile individuals. It was originally developed under the name Helicopter Launched, Fire and Forget Missile, which led to the colloquial name 'Hellfire' ultimately becoming the missile's formal name. It has multi-mission, multi-target precision-strike ability, and can be launched from multiple air, sea, and ground platforms, including the Predator drone. The Hellfire missile is the primary 100-pound class air-to-ground precision weapon for the armed forces of the United States and many other nations.

The Hellfire can be deployed from rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft, waterborne vessels and land-based systems against a variety of targets.

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 the AH-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.

The Hellfire II, developed in the early 1990s is a modular missile system with several variants. 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. Predator, Reaper and AH 665 Tiger, UCAVs carry the Hellfire II, but the most common platform is the AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship, which can carry up to 16 of the missiles at once. The AGM-114L, or Longbow Hellfire, is a fire-and-forget weapon: equipped with a millimeter wave (MMW) radar seeker, it requires no further guidance after launch—even being able to lock-on to its target after launch—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 lbs, including the 20 lb warhead, and has a range of 8,000 meters (26,000 ft). The AGM-114R "Romeo" Hellfire II entered service in late 2012. It uses a semi-active laser homing guidance system and an integrated blast fragmentation sleeve warhead to engage targets that previously needed multiple Hellfire variants. It will replace AGM-114K, M, N, and P variants in U.S. service.

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, and in Operation Iraqi Freedom, where they have been fired from Apache and Super Cobra attack helicopters, Kiowa scout helicopters, and Predator and Reaper unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs).

Hydra 70

The Hydra 70 rocket is a 2.75-inch fin-stabilized unguided rocket used primarily in the air-to-ground role. It can be equipped with a variety of warheads, and in more recent versions, guidance systems for point attacks. The Hydra is widely used by US and allied forces, competing with the Canadian CRV-7 which is physically interchangeable.

The Hydra 70 is derived from the 2.75-inch Mk 4/Mk 40 Folding-Fin Aerial Rocket developed by the United States Navy for use as a free-flight aerial rocket in the late 1940s. The Mk 40 was used during the Korean and Vietnam wars, being used to provide close air support to ground forces from about 20 different firing platforms, both fixed-wing and armed helicopters.

The main change made to produce the Hydra was the Mk. 66 motor which uses a new propellant that offers considerably more thrust, 1,335 pounds-force (5,940 N) (Mod 2/3) 1,415 pounds-force (6,290 N) (Mod 4). The fins of the Mk 40 flipped forward from the rear when the rocket left the launching tube, but in the Hydra they are curved to match the outside diameter of the rocket fuselage and flip sideways to open, which is referred to as WAFAR (Wrap-Around Fin Aerial Rocket) instead of FFAR (folding-fin aerial rocket). To improve stability during the time while the fins are still opening, the four motor nozzles have a slight cant angle to impart a spin while the rocket is still in the launch tube.

Today, the OH-58D(R) Kiowa Warrior and AH-64D Apache Longbow, as well as the Marine Corps' AH-1 Cobra, carry the Hydra rocket launcher standard on its weapon pylons.

In the U.S. Army, Hydra 70 rockets are fired from the AH-64A Apache and AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters using M261 19-tube rocket launchers, and the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior using seven-tube M260 rocket launchers. In the U.S. Marine Corps, either the M260 or M261 launchers are employed on the AH-1 Cobra and future AH-1Z Viper, depending upon the mission. The M260 and M261 are used with the Mk 66 series of rocket motor, which replaced the Mk 40 series. The Mk 66 has a reduced system weight and provides a remote fuze setting interface. Hydra 70s have also been fired from UH-60 and AH-6 series aircraft in US Army service.

The AH-1G Cobra and the UH-1B "Huey" used a variety of launchers including the M158 seven-tube and M200 19-tube rocket launchers designed for the Mk 40 rocket motor; however, these models have been replaced by upgraded variants in the U.S. Marine Corps because they were not compatible with the Mk 66 rocket motor. The Hydra 70 rocket system is also used by the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Air Force.

Hydra 70 warheads fall into three categories:
  1. Unitary warheads with impact-detonating fuzes or remote-set multi-option fuzes.
  2. Cargo warheads with air burst-range, with setable fuzes using the "wall-in-space" concept or fixed standoff fuzes.
  3. Training warheads.

The most common warhead for the Hydra 70 rocket is the M151 "10-Pounder," which has a blast radius of 10 meters and lethal fragmentation radius of around 50 meters.

There are several design efforts to turn the Hydra 70 rocket into a precision guided munition (PGM) to produce a weapon with greater accuracy but at less cost than other guided missiles.

AGM-176 Griffin

The AGM-176 Griffin is a lightweight, precision-guided munition developed by Raytheon. It can be launched from the ground or air as a rocket-powered missile or dropped from the air as a guided bomb. It carries a relatively small warhead, and was designed to be a precision low-collateral damage weapon for irregular warfare. It has been used in combat by the United States military in Afghanistan.

Raytheon developed Griffin as a low-cost modular system, using components from earlier projects, including the FGM-148 Javelin and the AIM-9X Sidewinder. It was originally designed to be launched from the US Special Operations Command's MC-130W Dragon Spear gunship.

It can be guided either by a semi-active laser seeker or guided with GPS. Its precision combined with a relatively small 13 lbs warhead reduces collateral damage.

The munition now comes in two versions. Griffin A is an unpowered precision munition that can be dropped from a rear cargo door or a door-mounted launcher that can drop while the cabin is pressurized. Weighing 33.1 lbs and measuring 1.2 yds (1.1 meters) in length, it is launched from a 10-tube "Gunslinger" launcher that fits on the rear ramp of a Marine KC-130 tanker/transport or the USAF AC-130W Stinger II.

Griffin Block II B is a short-range, rocket-powered air-to-surface or surface-to-surface missile that can be fired from UAVs as well as helicopters, attack aircraft, U.S. Air Force AC-130W gunships, and USMC KC-130J tankers.

The missile's folding fins allow it to be launched from a 140mm tube. It can be set to engage the target with height of burst, point detonation or fuze delay. The U.S. Navy has tested the Griffin as a shipboard missile guided by laser at fast-moving small boats; they planned to use it on the Littoral Combat Ships. The missile version is less than half the weight of a Hellfire round and includes a 13 lbs warhead. It has a range of 9.32 miles when air-launched, or 3.42 miles when launched from the surface. It has been fired from the U.S. Army Remote weapon station, multi-round Wedge Launcher, Smart Launcher and Kiowa Warrior manned helicopters.

The missile is smaller than the Hellfire typically used by armed UAVs, which reduces the potential for collateral damage. Three Griffins can be carried in place of one Hellfire. The Griffin missile and launch assembly is also lighter than the Hellfire, allowing more to be mounted on the Predator.

In 70 months of production from 2008 to early February 2014, Raytheon delivered 2,000 Griffin missiles. In late February 2014, Raytheon demonstrated the improved Griffin Block III missile, hitting static and moving targets. The Block III includes an improved semi-active laser seeker with better electronics and signal processing and a new Multi-Effects Warhead System to maximize lethality against different targets.

Shawn G in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

For more info on these and other weapons
Technical specs compiled from:

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Shawn in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

For more info on these and other weapons
Technical specs compiled from:

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."


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