Drones used missiles with knife warhead to take out single terrorist targets


Enlarge / A see-through model of the original Hellfire missile. Imagine the center replaced with a set of pop-out blades, and you’ve got the “Flying Ginsu.” (credit: Lockheed Martin)

Drone strikes have been the go-to approach by both the US military and the Central Intelligence Agency to take out terrorists and insurgent leaders over the past decade, and the main weapon in those strikes has been the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire II missile—a laser-guided weapon originally developed for use by Army helicopters as a “tank buster.” But as concerns about collateral damage from drone strikes mounted, the DOD and CIA apparently pushed for development of a new Hellfire that takes the term “surgical strike” to a new level, with a version that could be used to take out a single individual.

The Wall Street Journal reports that just such a weapon has been developed and deployed on at least two occasions, based on information provided by multiple current and former defense and intelligence officials. Designated the Hellfire R9X, the missile has no explosive warhead—instead, its payload is more than 100 pounds of metal, including long blades that deploy from the body of the missile just before impact.

“To the targeted person, it is as if a speeding anvil fell from the sky,” according to the WSJ. Some officials referred to the weapon as “the flying Ginsu,” because the blades can cut through concrete, sheet metal, and other materials surrounding a target.

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