What is Hellfire R9X, a warhead-less missile that killed al-Zawahiri?
Terror outfit al-Qaeda's chief Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in a drone strike on Sunday, US President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday. He was reportedly killed by two missiles as he stood on his Kabul safe home's balcony. With pictures not showing any signs of explosion, experts have hinted at the use of Hellfire R9X—a special warhead-less missile that slices through targets—for the operation.
Why does this story matter?
To recall, al-Zawahiri helped coordinate September 11, 2001, attacks in the US, after which he was on the run for 20 years with a $25M bounty on his head. The 71-year-old became the al-Qaeda chief in 2011. However, experts say al-Zawahiri lacked the charm that helped Osama bin Laden mobilize radicals throughout the globe but freely lent his analytical skills to the al-Qaeda cause.
What is the Hellfire R9X?
Experts believe that al-Zawahiri has been eliminated by the "macabre" Hellfire R9X. The AGM-114 Hellfire missiles are laser-guided, air-to-ground subsonic missiles. However, the special R9X missile has six razor-like blades that slice through its target but do not explode, thus lowering collateral damage. The pop-out blades of this missile have been designed especially for targeted killings.
Never publicly acknowledged by US officials
Interestingly, the existence of Hellfire R9X is only speculated as it has never been acknowledged publicly by the Pentagon or the CIA. The "secret weapon" was reportedly developed under Barack Obama's administration, with an aim to reduce collateral damage. A halo of six blades stored inside emerges to deploy through the missile's skin seconds before impact to ensure it shreds anything it passes through.
Initial design of the missile
In 2019, Wall Street Journal reported the initial design carried an inert warhead. It bumped over 100 pounds—more than 45.3kg—of metal through buildings or cars. "To the targeted person, it is as if a speeding anvil fell from the sky," WSJ reported, citing US officials.
Hellfire R9X first appeared in Syria in 2017
Also dubbed the "flying Ginsu," the R9X first surfaced following the assassination of senior al-Qaeda leader Abu al-Khayr al-Masri. He was killed in 2017 while traveling in a car in Syria. Visuals from the site showed a large hole in the car's roof with outside metal, seats, and the occupants physically shredded. The front and rear ends of the car, however, were completely intact.
Al-Qaeda leader killed in Syria in 2017
Al-Zawahiri attacked in Kabul safe house
The "Ninja Bomb" R9X has now been used to kill al-Zawahiri as well, according to experts. The house in which al-Zawahiri was attacked appears to be completely intact in the surfaced images, with only some damage to windows on one floor. Two Hellfire missiles reportedly entered through the buildings's windows and attacked the al-Qaeda chief. None of al-Zawahiri's family members were killed, said Biden.
Kabul home intact, only windows damaged
Official statement over the development
Biden stated in a televised statement he hoped al-Zawahiri's killing would offer "closure" to the families of the 3,000 people slain in the 9/11 attacks. "Justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more," the 79-year-old leader said. "Tonight we made clear: No matter how long it takes. No matter where you try to hide. We will find you," Biden later tweeted.