By Ann Roosevelt

Lockheed Martin [LMT], under HELLFIRE Services Limited Liability Company (HSLLC), will produce additional combat-proven Hellfirer II precision- strike, laser-guided air-to-ground missiles for U.S. and international armed forces under a $357 million Army contract.

“Hellfire is a good precision fire weapon. We use it for many different applications because it’s very versatile,” Col. Mike Cavalier, Army Joint Attack Munition Systems project manager, said in a teleconference yesterday.

Greece, France and the Netherlands also will benefit from the buy. France is the new customer and they were included in this contract award. HELLFIRE II will equip their Eurocopter.

“The Hellfire is definitely having an impact in theater right now,” he said, though declining to discuss precisely how.

Hellfire, available in four missile configurations, has been used successfully by U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more than 6,800 rounds fired from multiple platforms, Lockheed Martin said in a statement.

The Army is also finding other uses for Hellfire.

“There’s a growing area for weaponization in the UAV fleet,” Cavalier said. The missile is used on the Predator UAV, as well as the Reaper, and the Sky Warrior A.

Lockheed Martin Hellfire II Program Manager Ken Musculus said the company “continues to expand the missiles’ capability in response to the changing threat environment.”

Some things are in the works, though not ready to be discussed.

“Lockheed Martin over about the past four years really started getting aggressive with Hellfire–we’ve done more upgrades in the past four years than in the previous 20,” Musculus said.

Additionally, Lockheed Martin is looking to expand beyond the traditional Hellfire air platform, he said, such as land-, vehicle- or ship-based Hellfire platforms.

The Army contract also provides options for major additional orders in 2009 and 2010.

If exercised, the options will sustain full-rate production through 2013 in Lockheed Martin’s Troy, Ala., and Ocala, Fla., facilities.

Options also include more than 200 training missiles and up to 1,200 missile variant conversions.

Delivery of missiles produced under this contract will begin in 2010.

The flexible contract allows the Army to change the types of Hellfire missiles it wants to field, Cavalier said. The service wants that flexibility to respond to the operational environment.

The modular semi-active laser Hellfire II missile includes four warhead variations: the high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) missile, or AGM-114K, which defeats all known and projected armored threats; the AGM-114M blast fragmentation missile, which is effective against primary target sets such as boats, buildings, bunkers and light-armored vehicles; the metal augmented charge (MAC) missile, or AGM-114N, which defeats enclosures, caves and enemy personnel housed therein; and the recently introduced augmented HEAT warhead, or AGM-114KA, which adds blast fragmentation to the HEAT warhead’s anti-tank capability, providing precision strike against soft targets in the open.

More than 22,000 rounds have been delivered since production began in 1994, the company said. Hellfire II has been successfully integrated with a wide array of platforms, including the Army’s AH-64 Apache and OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters; the Marines’ AH-1 Cobra; the Navy’s SH-60 Seahawk helicopter; the U.K.’s Apache attack helicopter; the Eurocopter Tiger and the U.S. Air Force’s Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles.

Norway and Sweden use tripod-launched Hellfire missiles in a coastal defense mode.

Hellfire is approved for international sales both through both foreign military sales and direct commercial purchase.

In addition to all four branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, the armed forces of 16 nations have selected Hellfire.

Hellfire is a joint effort not only of the Army project office and Lockheed Martin, but of the labs–the Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center and the Research, Development and Engineering Command, both at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.

Lockheed Martin performs all work on behalf of HSLLC.