An advanced new variant of Hellfire missile may have been the primary weapon in the U.S. strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week, according to multiple new reports.
The Quds Force commander, Soleimani, was riding in a convoy outside the Baghdad International Airport along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis – deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Front (PMF) militia – when the missile struck. According to Forbes, fragments from the wreckage of the attack may indicate a newly produced AGM-179 Joint Air-t0-Ground Missile (JAGM) was used to carry out the strike.
An Iraqi Facebook group called Tactical Cell, which describes itself as an independent investigative group, took pictures of some of the fragments left behind at the site of the strike. Mohamed Saleh Alftayeh, a self-described military analyst in the Middle East, began to identify the JAGM as the likely weapon.
I do think #US used its newest missile, #JAGM, in assassinating #Soleimani in #Iraq. JAGM, Joint Air-to-Ground Missile, was supposed to go into production in 2019. JAGM has the same motor & warhead of the AGM-114R, but adds radar sensor guidance to the #Hellfire laser guidance. pic.twitter.com/WWRe2PJRCI
— Mohammed S. Alftayeh (@M_S_Alftayeh) January 3, 2020
Variants of the AGM-114 Hellfire missile have typically listed weight of between 45 and 50 kg, but the fragments from the missile show markings on the missile that indicated a weight of 52 kg. The extra weight may give away the added radar sensor suite included in the new JAGM, as the dual radar/laser-guided missile reportedly weighs in at 52 kg (115 pounds).
The Washington Examiner reported the missile was fired from an MQ-9 Reaper drone and the strike was believed to have been conducted by the CIA or the U.S. Air Force. The drone is reported to be “nearly silent” and Soleimani likely had little to no foreknowledge of the impending strike.
A nearby surveillance video caught the strike on camera. See the footage below:
The new JAGM is meant to include multiple guidance measures that also allow for increased maneuverability to avoid missile countermeasures.
The laser-guidance system will automatically adjust the missile to a laser target designator, while a millimeter-wave radar seeker allows the weapon to be fired and home in on a moving vehicle by itself.
The weapon’s system also allows an operator to switch between laser-guided and radar-guided control modes if the missile needs to take evasive actions to avoid being stopped.
The JAGM also has an airburst mode and a range of about five miles. The missile also remains effective even in smoke, dust and foggy conditions that might otherwise obscure guidance systems.
If the fragments found at the strike site are in fact those of the JAGM, the advanced and relatively new weapon may further suggest the high-level instruction that ordered the attack on Soleimani.