The United States’ New ‘Ninja Missile’ Chops Targets to Bits (We Have Questions)

The United States’ New ‘Ninja Missile’ Chops Targets to Bits (We Have Questions)

Caleb Larson

Security, Americas

A game-changer or just some really cool marketing?

U.S. forces reportedly killed a senior jihadist leader in Syria. While such strikes are typically carried out by drones and not so unusual, this particular strike used a new type of “ninja” missile. These missiles have been reportedly been used only a few times. Designed to minimize civilian casualties, the ninja missile is a specially modified Hellfire—without a warhead. In place of explosives, razor-sharp folding blades are used to literally chop the target to bits.

Hell in a Handbasket

The Hellfire family was originally developed in the 1980s as a tank-busting, surface-to-air missile designed specifically to counter armor. Several variants are used today, including fragmentation, incendiary, and high explosive anti-tank, or HEAT. The Hellfire missiles weigh in the 100 to 110 pound range, including a 20-pound warhead and are guided through a millimeter wave radar seeker, or by laser.

Years after their development, Hellfire missiles have become the armament of choice in the war on terror, and are often used on Reaper and Predator drones in strikes against militants in crowded, urban environments. The relatively small 20-pound warhead is crucial in these environments, where unnecessary civilian casualties or infrastructure damage could be detrimental to long-term mission success. Still, an explosion, regardless of size, runs the risk of civilian casualties. So how could a missile be improved for greater precision and pose less risk to civilian bystanders?


The R9X was developed to answer just this question. The R9X Hellfire variant is outwardly quite similar to the other Hellfire variants—except that it paradoxically isn’t equipped with an explosive warhead. In the missile body, where explosives would normally be located, are six razor-sharp blades.

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