Since most helicopters were designed for full scale anti-armor warfare, they may be inadequately equipped to carry out low intensive combat missions. The most common weapon in use today is the Hellfire semi-active laser (SAL) guided missile. Hellfire has excellent precision and “man in the loop” control, as it homes in on a target marked by ground or airborne designators. However, when employed against “soft” targets, such as unarmored vehicles, or buildings, the Hellfire does not generate the required lethality.
To improve its capabilities against such targets, blast-fragmentation and thermobaric versions of the AGM-114A were designed. With the enhanced range of warheads, laser guided Hellfire provide adequate standoff range and precision suitable for LIC operations.
Second generation TOW II and HOT missiles are not optimized for LIC, as they are limited to relatively short range, due to the wire guidance limitation. Similar to the basic Hellfire, they also have an excessive target penetration, due to the anti-armor warhead design. Equipped with blast fragmentation warhead, currently available for TOW, this weapon has regenerated some interest with LIC operators. The Fourth generation (now cancelled) Joint Common Missile (JCM) was designed to replace Hellfire and TOW currently in service, offering advanced multi-sensor seeker (SAL, Imaging Infrared (IIR) and millimeter radar)and adaptable warhead design. Instead, product improvements have been introduced to the TOW missile, eliminating the wire guidance with an RF link, while the Hellfire was modernized with mission-specific warheads, optimizing fragmentation and structure penetration capability. Furthermore, thermobaric warheads and a special model optimized for UAVs were introduced. In France, MBDA is focusing on a similar concept represented by the MCT (also known as EMM) which will offer similar capabilities for the future ground launched and helicopter launched missiles.
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