For killing leaders of extremist groups, it seems the Hellfire RX9 also known as a `ninja bomb’ is the munition of choice for the US. On Tuesday (August 2, 2022) according to reports, the US used the `ninja bomb’ to kill al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri, 71, in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Two missiles were reportedly fired at Zawahiri’s home, however the images available in the public domain show no sign of explosion and the US officials have claimed that no civilian lives were lost.
US had earlier reportedly used this bomb back in 2017 when al-Qaeda senior leader Abu al-Khayr al-Masri was killed in Syria and there was no loss of civilian lives.
More about Hellfire RX9
This Air to Ground (AGM) 114 Hellfire missiles are subsonic missiles and have significant anti-tank capacity. The missile used by the US, on August 2, is a warhead-less missile and it is equipped with six razors like blades. And it is these blades that killed the al-Qaeda head.
These missiles do not explode and to avoid collateral civilian damage, these missiles are known to release knife-like blades which hit the targets with precision. This missile has several variants based on the guidance system, its physical variants and the latest addition is the Hellfire R9X. This variant uses pop-up blades and is used for targeted killings by the US. These missiles are also known as the flying `Ginsu’. They are not known to cause any damage to the area where as there is no explosive which would explode, and there is no payload it carries.
When was it first known to have been used?
Though no one will acknowledge using it publicly, the CIA or the Pentagon are the agencies that can use it to target extremist leaders. In 2017, it was used for the first time ever to kill al-Qaeda senior leader Abu al-Khayr al-Masri while he was travelling in a car and it was deployed again in 2020 when the US forces had targeted an al-Qaida-linked trainer in Syria in 2020.
As has been reported in Financial Express Online, this was probably used to assassinate Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.
Reports indicate that this variant of the missile was developed during the Obama administration and the focus was to kill the target with minimum loss to the civilian population.
Where are the blades stored?
There are six long blades inside the missile and are deployed through the skin of the missile just a few seconds before the impact. This ensures that anything in its tracks is shredded. It is different from the traditional Hellfire missile. It leaves no mark, no burns, no scorches and all that is left is the points of entry.
This new variant weighs about 45 kg and can be launched from drones, helicopters, and aircraft. The US forces have fired these missiles from Humvees by their ground troops.
Depending on the variant being fired these missiles have a range which can be anything between 500 metres to 11 km.
For the killing of the al-Qaeda leader, the US had used specific intelligence to target him while he was on the balcony of his house in Kabul.
Drones used for strikes
The US has been using drones excessively to target enemies and their camps and, in the process, have caused a lot of civilian damage.
And the new variant of Hellfire Missile causes less damage.
These missiles can be launched by the MQ9 Predator drones from the US based General Atomics. These drones as reported by Financial Express Online earlier have the capability to detect targets using inbuilt radars and sensors and have the endurance of more than 27 hours. They can carry payloads of almost 1700 kgs and capacity of flying up to 50,000 feet with 6,000 nautical miles.
Does India have these Predators?
Not yet. India is in the process of finalising US $3 billion deal with General Atomics for 30 armed drones for the three services –Indian Navy, Air Force and the Indian Army. And these drones can be used for hitting the target with either missiles or bombs. Since they come with stealth features, they go undetected.
In the recent wars, Azerbaijan had used armed drones against Armenia. And the Ukrainian forces have used UAVs against Russia in the ongoing war.