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AUSA 2022: Hellfires find life-support as US Navy surface-ship weapon

The US Navy is putting Hellfire missiles on its Littoral Combat Ships for surface warfare operations. (US Navy)

As the US Army moves away from its stalwart AGM-114 Longbow Hellfire missile to make way for the Lockheed Martin AGM-179 Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM), the Hellfire is finding continued life in the US Navy (USN) Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) programme.

While the army approved the JAGM for full-rate production on 30 August, Northrop Grumman has remained on track to deliver weapons package sets to the USN LCS programme that include the Longbow Hellfire, company spokesperson Fernando Catta-Preta confirmed to Janes ahead of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) 2022 conference held in Washington, DC, from 10 to 12 October.

Northrop Grumman delivered one of the weapon packages earlier in 2022 to the USN, Catta-Preta said, and four more missile packages are under contract for deliveries during 2023.

The Hellfires are part of the LCS Surface-to-Surface Missile Module (SSMM). The missile-package components “form a segment of the Surface Warfare (SUW) mission package, which increases firepower and offensive/defensive capabilities against large numbers of highly manoeuvrable, fast, small craft threats, giving LCS the ability to protect the sea lanes and move a force quickly through a chokepoint or other strategic waterway”, according to USN fiscal year 2023 budget request documents.

The vertical launching of the missile from the LCS and the Hellfire's accuracy provide an effective weapon for the LCS surface warfare suite, Kevin Knowles told Janes on 5 April 2022 during the annual Navy League Sea-Air-Space national expo, shortly before he retired as Northrop Grumman' Strategic Growth manager, LCS/Unmanned Surface Vessel Programs.

“There's a greater than 90% kill ratio,” he said, even though “the warheads are pretty small”.

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