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CIA's Solution to Killing Too Many Civilians: Knife Bomb

Contract workers load a Hellfire missile onto a U.S. Air Force MQ-1B Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), at a secret air base in the Persian Gulf region on January 7, 2016.
Contract workers load a Hellfire missile onto a U.S. Air Force MQ-1B Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), at a secret air base in the Persian Gulf region on January 7, 2016.
Photo: Getty Images

The CIA and the U.S. military have been using a new type of missile during some drone strikes in recent years, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. What makes this new missile unique? It doesn’t explode and instead deploys sharp blades, hitting targets “like a speeding anvil” from the sky.

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The new missile, which has never been acknowledged publicly before today, is called the R9X and is a variant of the Hellfire missile. But unlike a traditional Hellfire, the R9X is designed with six long blades that only emerge from the missile seconds before impact. The R9X, nicknamed the “flying Ginsu” by insiders, doesn’t contain a warhead. The goal, according to anonymous U.S. officials speaking with the Journal, is to reduce unnecessary casualties and hopefully only kill the person who was targeted in the first place.

War reporters have been speculating that the U.S. military had a new kind of weapon since at least February 2017, when photos emerged following the death of Al Qaeda’s Abu Khayr al Masri in Syria. The terrorist, an Egyptian national, had been traveling in a Kia sedan that was surprisingly intact after the CIA drone strike, given the fact that it had just been hit with a missile.

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The roof of the Kia was destroyed, and as journalist Tyler Rogoway reported at the time, the car “literally has a hole punched through its roof with no real sign of a large explosion.”

Another terrorist, Jamal al-Badawi, may have been targeted in Yemen using the new missile when he was killed in January of 2019. Al-Badawi helped orchestrate the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors and wounded at least 40.

According to the Journal, the R9X was developed under President Barack Obama in an effort to reduce civilian deaths and has been in development since at least 2011. President Donald Trump has dialed back efforts to limit civilian casualties, even rescinding an Obama-era mandate to report civilian deaths by drones outside of war zones.

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The R9X has been used maybe half a dozen times around the world, according to this new report, including in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. But those numbers could not be independently verified and public affairs officials at the U.S. Department of Defense did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment this morning.

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[Wall Street Journal]

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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DISCUSSION

theghostofjimmadison
The Ghost of James Madison's Rage Boner

I think people are missing the real accomplishment here. A munition like this is useless unless it scores a direct hit. Those blades are about 3' long. Even grazing the vehicle would likely fail to kill the occupants. But look at the photos - that thing would have gone right down the fucking sunroof if the car had one. And it was fired from a remotely operated drone that was likely a mile or two off, being piloted by someone 15,000 miles around the other side of the planet.

Whatever you think about the wisdom of this, that’s pretty damned impressive.