The U.S. has secretly developed a missile capable of highly precise airstrikes to kill targets without an explosion.
The Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have both used the missile – a modified Hellfire missile dubbed R9X – as a means to take out highly sought targets while minimizing civilian casualties, and safeguarding the missile’s secrecy, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
The missile works in such precision due to its warhead that is designed not to explode, but to drive the missile through cars and buildings and straight into the target without ever injuring nearby persons or property.
Each warhead contains six blades that are designed to deploy in the seconds before impact, which tear through its target and anything immediately surrounding it, such as bodies, buildings, cars and other materials. It leaves little more than an entry hole torn into the roof of a car, unlike exploding missiles that leave burn marks and surrounding damage.
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) May 9, 2019
The 5-foot long, 100-pound missile has earned the nicknames “Ninja bomb” and “the flying Ginsu” in reference to popular consumer knives sold in the 1970s and 1980s, which were depicted as capable of slicing through everything from trees to vegetables.
The missile is suspected to have been in development from 2011, “for the express purpose of reducing civilian casualties,” one official said.
Although numerous officials have anonymously confirmed the deployment of the missile to the Wall Street Journal, official remarks on its development and existence haven’t been previously disclosed.
Though precise and effectively deadly, the missile is rarely used.
It is typically reserved for circumstances in which a high-level terrorist leader’s precise location has been obtained and the risk of civilian casualties would be too high if using alternative weapons.
Officials told the Wall Street Journal that the missile has only been used a half-dozen times to target terrorist leaders in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia.
Two of those instances were confirmed to the Wall Street Journal.
One missile deployed by the DOD this past January took out Jamal al-Badawi, one of the masterminds behind the USS Cole bombing in 2000 that left 17 U.S. sailors dead. Previously, the DOD only confirmed the strike, but did not release details on the weapon used.
Another missile in February 2017 deployed by the CIA killed Ahmad Hasan Abu Khayr al-Masri, Al Qaeda’s second in command, in Syria.
Several officials also told the Wall Street Journal that a similar version of the missile was a contingency plan for the raid on al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Some defense officials say the weapon should have been publicly discussed years ago in an effort to send a message to extremist groups. However, military advisers have warned against publicly disclosing the weapon’s existence over concerns that terrorists may guard themselves against exposure to such airstrikes.