CIA used a secret missile to kill terrorists ‘With No Explosion’ the Wall Street Journal reported 09 May 2019. The missile’s development, which reportedly began under former US President Barack Obama, was aimed to avoid civilian casualties during US campaigns in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Yemen. The AGM-114 R9X doesn’t explode but instead deploys six sharp blades, hitting and shredding targets without harming people and material nearby. Unlike fragments from an explosion, a blade has a specific maximum range - its length.
Effective targeting of the adversary is the most important and decisive part of successful warfare. Target selection requires military planners and strategists to develop tactical, operational and strategic target sets that destroy the adversary’s centers of gravity to compel capitulation, surrender or defeat. The U.S. Department of Defense [hereinafter DOD] defines collateral damage as, “unintentional or incidental injury or damage to persons or objects that would not be lawful military targets in the circumstances ruling at the time. Such damage is not unlawful so long as it is not excessive in light of the overall military advantage anticipated from the attack.”
Targets are not engaged if the act of engaging the targets would result in excessive damage to non-hostile targets. In many modern combat zones, America’s adversaries strategically locate their forces within urban environments, providing them with possible asymmetric ground advantages. Urban environments negate many traditional U.S. military advantages, such as massive firepower, by exploiting the U.S.’s unwillingness to risk injury to nearby friendly forces, cultural sites, or noncombatants. An innovative class of conventional weapon was needed to give commanders the desired effect on targets while avoiding excessive collateral damage. Such a weapon would remove limits on missions and allow US forces to engage adversaries in close proximity to damage-sensitive areas.
Ilustrators are in general agreement on the probable appearnce of this munition, though details vary.
The "R9X" nomenclature is idiosyncratic, and not part of some standard designation system. The R9X has been nicknamed a targeted ‘knife bomb’, the ‘ninja’ bomb or the "flying Ginsu". Shuriken ( literally “hand hidden blade”) is a traditional Japanese concealed weapon that was used for throwing, and sometimes stabbing. They are small, sharpened, hand-held blades. Shuriken are commonly known in the west as “throwing stars” or “ninja stars”. A kunai is a Japanese tool originally used by farmers in the Tensho Period in Japan. Fictional depictions of ninjas feature the kunai as a steel knife that is used for stabbing or particularly throwing. Ginsu is a brand of knives made popular in the United States sold on television using infomercials characterized by a hard sell hawker. Though best known for its late-night infomercials back in the early 1980s, Ginsu has become one of the best manufacturers of kitchen knife sets.
The US government developed the secret missile to launch pinpoint airstrikes against terrorists and their leaders “with no explosion”. The Wall Street Journal cited unnamed US officials as saying that the use of the specially designed new missile with “extraordinarily accurate intelligence about a target’s location and surroundings” will help “drastically” reduce damage and minimise chances of civilian casualties.
“A modified version of the well-known Hellfire missile, […] the R9X is designed to plunge more than 100 pounds of metal through the tops of cars and buildings to kill its target without harming individuals and property close by”, the officials said. The R9X aims to target terrorists who adapt to US airstrikes by “hiding among groups of women and children to put themselves out of reach”. The newspaper noted in this vein that that both the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have already used this weapon, “carefully concealing its existence”.
The missile was reportedly used at least twice, most recently in Yemen in January 2019. According to officials who spoke with the Journal, the missile has only been used about half a dozen times in recent years. One of those times was on 26 February 2017, when it killed al-Qaeda deputy leader Abu Al-Khayr al-Masri in Idlib, Syria. He was riding in a Kia sedan that, when recovered, was remarkably intact given that it had just been hit dead-on with a missile. The roof was shredded and al-Masri, an Egyptian national, was killed with ‘no real sign of a large explosion’, according to journalists on the scene.
“A Hellfire, which is a little more than five feet [1.5 m] long and weighs just over 100 pounds [45kg], typically leaves behind mangled, burned-out shells of vehicles, surrounded by debris and scorch marks over a large radius. The R9X leaves no such signature”, the sources pointed out.
The kindred but un-related BLU-129/B (ED78) Composite Case Warhead provides a very low collateral damage weapon with a carbon fiber composite case for high near-field lethality deliver 3x reduction in collateral damage. The weapon supports an urgent need for a very low collateral damage weapon. Precision Lethality MK82 is a Quick Reaction Capability acquisition program to field a 500-lb composite case warhead (BLU-129) capability in response to a United States Central Command Joint Urgent Operational Need for a very low collateral damage weapon. The Air Force Research Laboratory teamed with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) to design the PL82 composite warhead case which disintegrates during the explosion and minimizes fragmentation, thus decreasing damage and injury to nearby structures and personnel, including friendly forces and civilians.
Another such bomb, the BLU-126/B Low Collateral Damage Bomb (LCDB), can be used with the same guidance kits as the BLU-111. The modification reduces the mass of the main-charge explosive to less than 30 pounds, and the removed explosive mass is replaced with inert material that maintains the mass properties.
Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) is uniquely suited for Low Collateral Damage. It produces lower pressure but increased impulse in the near field. Far Field damage is reduced (no frags/ impulse rolloff). The lethal footprint can be tuned to precision footprint. Small Diameter Bomb funding would allow the facilities to continue development of a Focused Lethality Munition (FLM) using the Dense Inert Metal Explosive technology integrated into SDB I.
Such warhead concepts for low collateral damage munitions typically require a polymer composite warhead in conjunction with dense high-explosive (HE) fills. The use of these dense HEs creates significant design, performance, and safety issues. Structural integrity requires that the warhead sidewall be able to withstand gun-launch loads that include the loading from the dense HE fill. A competing requirement is that the performance of the low-collateral warhead is strongly influenced by the burst strength of the warhead sidewall.
The Hellfire R9X was born from the desire of President Obama to avoid civilian casualties caused in particular by airstrikes from the CIA's drone program. The private Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has been tracking US drone strikes abroad since 2004, reported that in the last 15 years drone strikes had killed between 769 to 1725 civilians, with 253 to 397 of them being children. Obama announced the new strategy in a speech in May 2013 when he admitted some civilian deaths were unavoidable.
These new system help service members reach threats that the standard weapon can't reach with a very low collateral damage footprint. But the new variant of Hellfire comes close to zero collateral damage. There remains an important difference between very low collateral damage and no collateral damage, particuarly if you are the collateral damage in question.