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It Looks Like Iran Is Making Its Own Hellfire Missiles

February 9, 2020

Via Iranian media.

A sudden appearance of a missile-armed helicopter at an event for the Iranian air force (IRIAF) may have outed the branch’s newest weapon. A demonstration by a flight of Bell 214 helicopters included a variant (pictured above) armed with missiles whose paint scheme resembled the AGM-114 Hellfire. This suggests Iran’s military-industrial sector, being a part of the national economy that thrives despite sanctions, has copied the system. The Hellfire originated in the 1980s to complement the new generation of US Army attack helicopters. It has since gained a peerless reputation for being adaptable–even vehicles can mount its launchers–and very lethal against any target.

Iran’s state-owned armaments manufacturers already produce an interesting catalog of missiles. The past few years proved their effectiveness beyond any doubt. Iran’s proxies in Syria and Yemen have used the anti-tank missiles delivered to them with great success. Iran’s cruise missiles are just as potent and were responsible, along with a drone swarm, for damaging Saudi Aramco’s facilities in September last year. Then on January 8 a salvo of ballistic missiles bombarded an Iraqi military base housing US troops and scorched entire buildings. It was only found out weeks later that dozens of Americans suffered from brain injuries from the multiple impacts.

As for this Iranian “Hellfire,” glowing reports from local media have outed it alternately as the “Qaem” or the “Meraj” depending on its guidance system and acknowledged its similarity to the US system without providing useful specifications. A Hellfire missile is far from portable, however, and requires at least two persons to load it on the hardpoint of an aircraft. With a diameter of 180mm and nearly six feet long the Hellfire enjoys extreme range and explosive force; armor penetration is estimated at 1,000mm and range varies from eight to 10 kilometers. A single MQ-9 Reaper armed with four Hellfire missiles can provide unprecedented close air support. An AH-64D/E gunship fully loaded with 16 Hellfires is almost excessive by comparison. It’s even possible to mount Hellfire missiles on C-130’s repurposed for ground attack roles such as the Harvest Hawk variant.

Of course, it’s not exactly clear how Iranian companies managed to reproduce Hellfire missiles. The Artesh and the IRGC’s collection of US weapons and equipment pre-date the 1979 revolution. But since guidance systems and munitions have long been mastered by Iran’s military industries, a careful analysis of the Hellfire and maybe collecting its parts from Afghanistan and Iraq paved the way for assembling its local analog. Other air-launched US missiles and ordnance Iran has reproduced include the AIM-9 Sidewinder, the AIM-54 Phoenix and the GBU-series Paveway. A segment of Iran’s vast drone fleet are capable of delivering small laser-guided bombs based on the BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missile, whose local variant is called the Toophan.

Iran’s local production of anti-armor weapons is staggering by any standard. Besides portable direct fire weapons such as recoilless rifles its factories mass-produce ATGMs such as the Raad (Soviet/Russian Sagger), the Dehlavieh (Russian Kornet), and the Saeghe (US Dragon). The jury is still out on how far and how powerful this Iranian “Hellfire” is. But its existence should be noted by the region’s defense ministries along with CENTCOM, whose balance of forces to counter Iran keeps growing, since it enhances a feared adversary’s striking power. Like the US, Iran is fond of using drones for targeting its foes, and propping up its local allies is always a priority. Hellfire missiles are so adaptable that ground vehicles can deploy them too. Unless it’s reserved for the IRIAF’s exclusive use this missile might end up going places.

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