Friday, May 25, 2018

LCS Hellfire Update

The Navy seems to be committed to mounting the AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire missile on the LCS for use against small craft.  Hellfire had previously been tested in March 2017 for launch capability and the Navy was working on problems with tip over – trying to get the missile to tip over from the vertical launch to horizontal flight and pick up the target.  That issue has apparently been solved, at least enough to allow further testing. 

USNI News website reports that the Navy conducted a live fire test in which four Hellfires were vertically launched from the USS Milwaukee, LCS-5, cued from ship’s radar and “other systems”, and hit small craft targets.  Thus, the test appears to have been an integrated launch using the ship’s combat control system.  The conditions of the test and the results are unknown although the Navy released footage showing one missile hitting a target.  Whether the other missiles hit is unknown.  The targets appeared to be moving although speed and range were not stated and it is unknown whether the targets were maneuvering.  The website article contains a brief video of the launch, if you’re interested. (1)

Just to refresh, here’s a few specs on the Longbow Hellfire, which is the Apache helicopter version of the missile.

Weight     100 lbs
Length     64 in
Diameter   7 in
Seeker     millimeter wave radar
Warhead    20 lbs
Range      ~4 miles with a minimum safe range of 546 yds

Hellfire missiles have a variety of warhead types (fragmentation, shaped charge, etc.) and it is unknown which type or types will be used by the LCS.

LCS Hellfire Launch

Range is less than for helo launched missiles due to the vertical launch.

The LCS launcher appears to be an adaptation of the Army M299 launcher in an embedded box mounted in the former NLOS weapon pit.  The launcher can hold 24 missiles. (2)

Recall the lineage of this LCS weapon. 

  1. The original surface to surface missile for the LCS was to have been the Non-Line of Sight (NLOS) networked munition

  1. After cancellation of NLOS, the Navy looked to develop a custom replacement missile but dropped this project.

  1. The Griffin missile was announced in 2011 as the next replacement but was also dropped.

Note that the Navy has still not officially committed to the Hellfire.  The project is considered developmental and is due to wrap up in 2019-20 at which point a decision will be made about deploying the system.

Successful integration of the Longbow Hellfire missile into the LCS will finally provide a credible anti-swarm capability.  Of course, the range is too short and the warhead too small to be a serious threat to corvette or larger size ships.  Thus, the Hellfire will offer a substantial improvement over the current, well … nothing, but still falls woefully short of the original anti-surface and land attack requirement of the ASuW module.


(1)USNI News website, “USS Milwaukee Launches Hellfires in LCS Surface-to-Surface Missile Module Test”, Megan Eckstein, 16-May-2018,

(2)Navy Recognition, “Q & A with the U.S. Navy on Lockheed Martin Hellfire missiles for Littoral Combat Ships”, 17-Jul-2014,


  1. Forget about any land attack capability with that range, you would have to beach an LCS to hit something on land.

    Forget about damaging a corvette or anything with some size with that warhead. You would just piss them off.

    Forget about hitting a sea-doo or small highly maneuverable small boat, they are small, would get in close fast which means you would get inside the safe fire zone and probably need more than 24 missile magazine when you look at how many of these the Iranians parade.

    So, what exactly does the Hellfire provide apart from a false sense of security to the crew and some kind of stupid justification for the fiasco that is the LCS?!?

    1. Same thing the LCS does Nothing they should go to the Brit system called Sea Spear that actually works but that is too logical you need a range of at least 15-20 miles for this type is targets

    2. Few people like the LCS but let's be fair and objective about this.

      The LCS was intended to operate in squadrons, not alone. Thus, the firepower of the LCS is that of the squadron, not just one ship. Just as Iran would use many boats to attack, so too, the LCS should operate in numbers.

      The Hellfire is not a land attack missile when mounted on a ship. It does, however, provide a credible anti-boat capability assuming that it can track a small boat in waves - something that has yet to be proven although the Navy's single test indicates that it is at least possible, if not probably. So, as a anti-small boat weapon, it seems adequate. As a replacement for the original NLOS, it is woefully inadequate.

      Whether Brimstone would be a better choice than Hellfire is a separate issue.

      As far as anti-ship, the proposed Naval Strike Missile that is being procured (maybe) will cover that capability. The Hellfire is not intended for that role and should not be judged in that role. Assuming the NSM is actually obtained, the LCS will have a credible anti-ship capability.

      I am the furthest thing from a fan of the LCS but I am a fan of objectivity.

    3. You are actually right on this one still the range issue really bothers me wasnt saying adopt the Brimstone just that longer range purpose designed system were and are available is all another one is the Spike NLOS system from Israel

    4. BTW range of the Spike NLOS is 25 kilometers so that would certainly qualify whether these systems were actually looked at was my point or whether the just went cheap not wanting to fight over the "not" made here battle

    5. "range issue"

      Bear in mind that anything beyond necessary range is unnecessary. The main weapon of the Iranian swarm boats is rockets (see the link below) which have a max range of around 5 miles and an effective range much less than that. Thus, the Hellfire with a 4 mile effective range is adequate. A weapon with a longer range, such as Brimstone or Spike is more than is necessary. Here is where cost enters the equation. If Brimstone and Spike are more expensive, they don't offer any additional value or capability. If they're cheaper then they'd be fine, though unnecessary.

      Also, recall that US ships do not/can not fire without positive ID. Trying to positively ID a small boat beyond 5 miles is problematic, to say the least. Thus, a longer ranged defensive weapon may not be practically useful.

      I just don't know enough about performance and cost of the other systems to say anything definitive. I just offer these general thoughts for your consideration.

      Swarm Boats and Weapons"

    6. You again are correct but another question aren't you specifically mentioning the Iranian as the targets sure they the most likely ones bit dont other operate them too one more thing has bothered me for years it seems like lc

    7. Too finish my thought LCS seems specifically designed for the mideast region but has yet to be seen there in fact LCS isn't even scheduled for any deployment at all during 2018 wondering why in your opinion and yes NSM IS supposed to be tried this year on LCS during RIMPAC guy we will have to,wait and see if it is and lastly on the identification issue isn't that what the helicopters manned and unmanned are for?

    8. Whatever the Navy might now say, the LCS was designed specifically for the anti-small boat role, at least in its ASuW role, and that is, obviously, the Middle East.

      Why it hasn't been deployed there yet, I have no idea other than it has no anti-small boat capability yet so deploying there would just be sending a virtually unarmed boat into harms's way given that the Iranians have already shown a willingness to seize American boats.

      As far as helos and identification, yes helos can be used to assist with that. However, helos can only cover a certain amount of territory and are notoriously unreliable - if you have one helo, you have none. So, coverage is spotty.

      Plus, if there is the possibility of hostilities, sending a helo to take a look at a boat that likely carries Stinger type missiles is going to make for a very short lifespan for the helo.

      People tend to think of helos as some kind near-AWACS, all-seeing, all-knowing for hundreds of miles around. The reality is that helos have to closely investigate each and every boat to obtain a positive ID. Given the density of small boats in the MidEast, that's a time-consuming business and will only provide very limited coverage.

      Helos are not the panacea so many make them out to be.

  2. A five to ten thousand dollar guided 70mm rocket vs. a hundred thousand dollar plus Hellfire. Guess which one has the shorter range too.
    And the 70mm's many, many different types of warheads.
    Now the APKWS do cost thirty thousand dollars. Hey, thats almost a third of the cost of a Hellfire. Can't afford a less expensive choice.

  3. Although Hellfire sized weapons wont sink ships, they will more than adequately mission kill a small ship, especially a modern, practically unarmored warship.
    *If* the missile were to hit a ships gun/radar/whatever, it would disable that bit, if it were to hit a box launcher or a VLS cluster the follow on explosions could be catastrophic.

    But its a massive amount of cost and effort for such little reward, compared with say, phalanx, or even an oerlikon 20mm cannon on an RWS.


    The 70mm guided rocket is laser guided, its relatively easy to blind, and requires the firing platform to maintain a target lock. An LCS under attack would want to maneuver aggressively, which would almost certainly break that lock, it would also require ongoing manned aiming, the Hellfire is fire and forget.

  4. Some of the swarming threat offensive anti-ship missiles can go 20 NM. How is Hellfire a credible defense? The swarm will launch outside the range and never be in danger. Any defensive weapon for LCS needs to be able to kill 10-12 boats before 1 of them gets into firing range. Hellfire may protect from Somali pirates but shouldn't we have a better system?

    1. "Some of the swarming threat offensive anti-ship missiles can go 20 NM."

      Yes, some of the boats mount small anti-ship missiles but the vast majority of swarm boats mount 107mm rockets and RPG-type weapons. While not ideal, the helo can deal with the missile armed swarm boats and the coming NSM missile will also provide an effective boat defense, if somewhat of an overkill.

      There is also the issue of targeting. A small boat with a small anti-ship missile has very limited sensor capability. It does no good to have a long ranged weapon and a short ranged sensor.

      Finally, no one is suggesting the Hellfire is the perfect solution - only that it at least provides a credible solution as opposed to the current, nearly non-existent capability.

  5. Why, pray tell, did the Navy decide to take a horizontally fired missile and make it launch vertical? Couldn't they have installed them in a launcher similar to a RAM or Sea Sparrow for horizontal launch and directional bearing?

    1. I have no idea - it's what I would have done. My only guess is that they wanted it to fit in the NLOS weapon pit and be vertical launch just like the NLOS. My also have had something to do with restricted firing arcs? Just guessing.


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