US forces reportedly killed a senior jihadist leader in Syria.
While such strikes are typically carried out by drones and not so unusual, this particular strike used a new type of “ninja” missile, The National Interest reported.
These missiles have been reportedly been used only a few times. Designed to minimize civilian casualties, the ninja missile is a specially modified Hellfire — without a warhead. In place of explosives, razor-sharp folding blades are used to literally chop the target to bits.
The Hellfire family was originally developed in the 1980s as a tank-busting, surface-to-air missile designed specifically to counter armor.
Several variants are used today, including fragmentation, incendiary, and high explosive anti-tank, or HEAT. The Hellfire missiles weigh in the 100 to 110 pound range, including a 20-pound warhead and are guided through a millimeter wave radar seeker, or by laser.
Years after their development, Hellfire missiles have become the armament of choice in the war on terror, and are often used on Reaper and Predator drones in strikes against militants in crowded, urban environments.
The relatively small 20-pound warhead is crucial in these environments, where unnecessary civilian casualties or infrastructure damage could be detrimental to long-term mission success. Still, an explosion, regardless of size, runs the risk of civilian casualties. So how could a missile be improved for greater precision and pose less risk to civilian bystanders?
According to military sources, the R9X was developed in secret to answer this question. The R9X Hellfire variant is outwardly quite similar to the other Hellfire variants — except that it paradoxically isn’t equipped with an explosive warhead. In the missile body, where explosives would normally be located, are six razor-sharp blades.
The R9X missile relies on kinetic energy instead and has been described as an anvil falling from the sky — a 100-pound anvil, traveling nearly 1,000 miles an hour.
These six blades pop out of the body of the missile moments before impact, creating a disc of destruction capable of chopping up people to bits and slashing through cars and other unarmored targets.
It is highly accurate as well. The R9X reportedly has a “left seat, right seat” capability, wherein a car passenger could be killed and the driver, as well as other passengers, would be unharmed.
The variant has been used before, albeit very sparingly. In 2017, Abu Khayr al Masri was killed (also in Syria’s Idlib province) by a drone strike.
Most recently, the R9X was reportedly used in Idlib province in Syria to kill an al-Qaeda offshoot leader as he was traveling in the region by car. In a series of photos posted to social media, the windows of the targeted vehicles are not blown out but mostly intact.
The advanced weapon offers greater flexibility to Pentagon commanders and drone operators — which means, it may be used more often for surgical strikes.
The irony of course, is that in the year 2019, a secret weapon that chops people into bits, is considered more humane. Which poses the ethical question — does it matter how bad guys are killed?