Here's What You Need To Remember: The bladed missiles are designed for urban environments, where more conventional explosives have a tendency to cause unacceptable collateral damage.
The Hellfire missile was originally developed in the 1980s as an anti-tank missile, though its role has been expanded for a variety of missions thanks to the missile’s high precision. It is currently in service with a number of countries including the United States, and is most often used with the Predator or Reaper drones for operations in crowded urban environments.
The missile is particularly well suited to urban operations. Though the missile’s overall weight is around 100 pounds, or about 45 kilograms, its warhead makes up only a fifth of the missile’s weight. Smaller, more controlled explosions are absolutely crucial in these environments where civilian casualties can seriously undermine long-term mission success. But one of the Hellfire variants doesn’t have an explosive warhead—and is just as deadly.
AGM-114 R9X Hellfire
In a video posted to social media, several recovered AGM-114 R9X Hellfire missiles were seen after they had been fired. In the video, the spent missile parts can be seen along with markings on them, including the R9X designation. Though fragmentary, the missile pieces appear to be parts of missile bodies, as well as a centrally located hub where the missile’s long, deadly blades attach to. Red spheres can also be seen inside the missile body that are likely responsible for acceleration. Another photo on Twitter gives a better look at the missile’s blade hub and part of a twisted blade.
These missiles are seldom used. They lack an explosive warhead, and instead of blowing up, they use several pop-out blades to take out targets kinetically—hence the ninja nickname. The missile is designed to reduce civilian casualties, especially in dense urban environments. Thus far the missile seems to have been favored against individuals in cars, and is said to have the ability to target individual seats preventing other passengers from being killed.
Other photos and video posted to Twitter appear to show a car hit by at least one R9X missiles. Unlike usual missile strikes, this car is not burned, but looks like it’s been on a giant chopping block. The front windshield, roof, and seats are sliced through and what appears to be one of the missile’s blades can be seen on the ground next to the vehicle.
Despite the dearth of concrete knowledge publicly available on the R9X missile, its aftermath is unmistakable. Use of the R9X is increasing—and keeping it a secret in the future will be next to impossible. Stay tuned for more info on this so-called ninja missile.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture. This article first appeared in June 2020.