Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Three big European nations, all washed-up, has-been powers, decide to collaborate on a project. They threw everything including the kitchen sink into it. The end of the cold war meant a reduction in ordered numbers, a boatload of delays, and the sort of cost increases that make legislators hold angry hearings. Somehow the project didn’t get cancelled, and now one of the three actually has some.
It’s the PARS 3 LR ATGM. Also known as Trigat, this was supposed to be the cool new missile of choice for attack helicopters in France, Germany, and the UK. The Europeans had their own TOW equivalent, called HOT. The latest version, HOT-3, was rather better than the TOW-2A as far as range and armor penetration were concerned. The Americans decided that they wanted something better. They buckled down, said “Hughes, get ‘er Done!” and got the awesome Hellfire missile for their helicopters, starting in 1984. The Europeans stuck with the wire-guided HOT for quite a while, but eventually decided that they needed a new missile too. No problem. They’d team up. Hey, the ECC was still cool back then. They hadn’t figured out that these multilateral programs were nothing but goat rope.
Of course, in 1991 the Soviet Union broke up. Goodbye Cold War. Hello vengeful legislatures. As we’ve seen before, lots of stuff got frozen as is. Big projects died. So the Americans, who had Hellfires in production, got to keep them. Funding for PARS 3 was cut, which brought delays.
Let’s look at the missile before resuming our history lesson. It’s about Hellfire-sized, weighing 49 kg and measuring 1.6 m long and 159 mm wide. It’s got the usual tandem shaped-charge warhead that we’d expect. Guidance was an imaging infrared system, something like what you’d find on some Maverick missiles. Nothing wrong here, but it was new ground for the Europeans. Definitely something that would drive cost up. Remember, basic Hellfires have semi-active laser homing guidance. Which is quite a bit easier and cheaper. I’m all for fancy fire-and-forget, but the perfect is the enemy of the good enough. And getting away from wire-guided missiles is much more important for missile range and helicopter survivability.
The Hellfire is cheaper, combat proven, and comes with some alternative warhead options, including thermobaric and fragmentation warheads. There’s also the radar-guided AGM-114L version, which is pretty fancy, and gives that fire and forget capability. It’s been combat proven all over the world. Get rid of the stupid PARS. It’s overpriced and doesn’t do anything the competition doesn’t.
But don’t just take my word for it. Two of the three partners backed out. First was the UK. They didn’t much care for the project, or the Eurocopter Tiger (a wise decision). They went with Apaches and Hellfires. They even got the fancy Longbow fire control radar for their Apaches, and the AGM-114L version (among others). Awesome. Good on you, GB! Even the French, who stuck with the Tiger (Tigre?) project, got sick of the issues. They bought Hellfires for their Tiger(re)s, like the Australians did. Look, when the French back out of a project because it’s too expensive and not delivering, you know you’re done. The French are as protectionist as they come, and work hard to keep a native arms industry as best they can. But even they have limits.
Somehow the Germans actually bought the darn things. Very silly. I’m sill confused about the utter foolishness of it. Just. Buy. Hellfires. Even the French agree.