The Pentagon’s secretive R9X Hellfire missile may be more akin to a meteor full of swords than a traditional munition, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective.
According to multiple reports, the U.S.-led coalition to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria reportedly carried out an airstrike against a minivan in the Syrian city of Idlib on Tuesday.
Based on photos of the target vehicle, that strike purportedly used the R9X, which substitutes an explosive charge with a ring of six long blades that deploy seconds before impact, effectively eviscerating the target while avoiding civilian casualties.
With its inert warhead, the R9X is essentially a rocket-powered update to the “Lazy Dog” bombs that U.S. service members would release at terminal velocity from aircraft above the battlefields of Korea and Vietnam.
As the Wall Street Journal reported in May, the R9X Hellfire variant has been covertly deployed against targets in Syria and Yemen since 2017. Indeed, the War Zone details the similarities between this fresh strike and previous deployments of the R9X in Syria:
There are clear similarities here to a strike that killed Abu Khayr Al Masri, then Al Qaeda’s number two leader, as he drove in his car in Al Mastouma, Syria, in 2017. This city is also in Idlib and is some 30 miles south of Atmeh. Al Masri’s car also suffered the most damage toward the front passenger side and is known to have been the work of an AGM-114R9X, which has reportedly been used extremely sparingly. The War Zone was the first to call attention to the likelihood that a previously unknown munition was used in that strike, which turned out to be the case.
Without seeing the top of the van in Atmeh, which could show telltale signs of the AGM-114R9X’s blades striking the vehicle, and with such little additional information about the individuals who died in the strike, it is impossible to say for certain who may have been responsible and exactly weapons they may have been employed.
What is for certain, though, is that the weapon did its job: According to reports, two individuals were killed in the van, one of whom allegedly belonged to the al Qaeda offshoot known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).
One report indicates the missile targeted Abu Ahmed al-Jaziri, a foreign HTS fighter who was a trainer for the groups’ elite Red Unit.