Hellfire does not tidily disintegrate the target as in a video game

Tuesday, January 30th, 2024

Swarm Troopers by David HamblingCofer Black, head of the CIA’s counterterrorist Center, requested that the Predator be armed, David Hambling reports (in Swarm Troopers), and USAF General John Jumper requested a demonstration of a Predator that could “find a target, then eliminate it”:

Hellfire was chosen because it was a proven, mature missile with many years of successful service. In fact, mature is something of an understatement: Hellfire was positively middle-aged, dating back to the Nixon administration in 1974.


Hellfire has laser guidance, so the target needs to be marked with a laser designator right up until the missile hits. It is highly accurate, usually hitting within half a meter of the aim point, but it can take a while to arrive. Hellfire is faster than the speed of sound, but fired from a range of six miles, it still takes about twenty seconds to reach the target.


Hellfire is uncomfortably large to hang off a Predator but small compared to anything else available in the inventory. At the time, the Air Force’s smallest guided bomb was five hundred pounds.


The other challenge when firing a Hellfire from a Predator is the unavoidable two-second time lag caused by satellite communications. This means the laser spot effectively takes two seconds to move, so the Predator can only engage a stationary target in this mode. To hit a moving target, the operator uses targeting software to lock on to a moving vehicle; the software keeps the laser spot in place, an indirect way of engaging the target with its own risks if the system fails.


Hellfire does not tidily disintegrate the target as in a video game but leaves recognizable bodies and body parts around ground zero.


If fired in a straight line, Hellfire’s supersonic speed means the target will not hear it coming.


Hellfire may be precise, but it is not surgical. The twenty-pound high-explosive warhead can cause major “collateral damage,” killing innocent bystanders or building occupants when the target is a single terrorist.

Worse, the long time of flight means there is the risk of somebody wandering into the target area after the missile has been launched.

“Hellfire” supposedly comes from heliborne laser, fire-and-forget missile.


  1. McChuck says:

    War is indiscriminate, bloody murder. That’s the whole point. It’s a feature, not a bug.

    Just another reminder that CNN is always, always the enemy.

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