Posts emerging on social media over the past few days show the aftermath of an unusual airstrike: A minivan carrying a suspected terrorist just 10 miles from the site of the recent raid on ISIS leader Abu Al Baghdadi’s compound, was hit by what appears to be a U.S. Hellfire missile… but instead of an explosion that would have certainly killed civilians in the area, the missile deployed swords capable of killing everyone within its strike radius. According to reports from Syria, two suspected terrorists inside the van died. There were no other casualties.
The international Coalition carried out an air strike near Atmeh, northwestern Idlib, apparently with the R9X Hellfire missile, which does not have an explosive charge. The areas is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. More on the missile: https://t.co/GSDlirp2D2 pic.twitter.com/h1HnVU3qVJ
— Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) December 3, 2019
The weapon seemed to be specifically aimed at the front passenger seat of the vehicle. Local witness reports claimed that the bodies inside were “mashed.” This isn’t the first reported use of such a weapon. Reports had also emerged this past May of similar airstrikes killing other terrorists, including Al Qaeda’s then-number two leader, Abu Khayr Al Masri. The Wallstreet Journal quoted an unnamed defense official at the time as saying that the missile had thus far only seen operational use about a half dozen times.
The modified hellfire missile, dubbed the AGM-114 R9X, was reportedly designed for use by the CIA. The program started under the Obama administration: Its goal was to find a way to conduct highly accurate airstrikes that eliminate concerns about collateral damage, since, instead of blowing up a suspected terrorist, you can simply crush and slice him to death with a weapon covered in six swords and moving at around 1,000 miles per hour.
This fragment is reported to have been found at the site of what may have been an RX9 (Hellfire with frikken swords) strike.
If you looks closely, you can see what appear to be hinges, as well as being and twisted projections from those hinges.
— Nick Waters (@N_Waters89) December 4, 2019
Obviously the missile has to be incredibly accurate given its very small kill radius. This is most likely accomplished through laser targeting carried out by overhead drones or troops on the ground. It’s also not at all uncommon for UCAVs, like the MQ-9 Reaper drones, to carry Hellfire missiles, thus making it possible that this strike was launched via drone.
Hellfire missiles carry their explosive ordnance (one of three variants) in the middle portion of the platform’s body that measures around 18 inches. It stands to reason then that the Hellfire R9X’s blades are likely around that long; this would give the missile a kill radius of a bit more than three feet. It’s unclear exactly when in its flight path the missile deploys its blades. As Tyler Rogoway at The Warzone points out, there are a few different ways to pull that off to the same effect: They may deploy through slots; or as a result of an external body panel ejecting shortly before impact; or the deployment may be kinetic, spurred by the missile’s contact with a solid surface.
Frikken swords, man. pic.twitter.com/7HPWFLLvSD
— Nick Waters (@N_Waters89) May 9, 2019
In any case, the platform seems to be proving that it’s an accurate and viable option for highly accurate targeting from a great distance. With a range that likely exceeds four miles, this “ninja missile” is as close to a sniper-shot as you can pull off from four miles out under the wing of an unmanned aircraft.