America's Missile That Uses Sword Blades Instead Of Explosives Has Struck Again In Syria

For the second time this week, the secretive AGM-114R9X Hellfire missile has punched a hole through a car's roof and sliced its target to death. 

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It appears that the AGM-114R9X, a secret low collateral damage derivative of the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, has been employed against occupants of another vehicle in northwestern Syria. This is the second time this week. Previously, we knew of only one other instance in which the unique missile had been used, back in 2017 when an Al Qaeda kingpin was similarly targeted and killed in western Syria. The War Zone was the first to posit that an exotic new low-collateral damage weapon was being used after images from that strike surfaced. 

There are no confirmed reports as to who was targeted in this latest strike, which occurred near the town of Afrin in Aleppo Governorate, although there are some unconfirmed claims. Supposedly, three people were killed in the vehicle when the bladed weapon smashed through the roof of the vehicle. The post-strike video below is very gruesome. You have been warned: 

We followed up our report on a similar strike earlier this week in which an AGM-119R9X was used with a photo of the missile's blade-wielding metallic core that survived the impact with the vehicle (see below). It provided great insight into how the weapon actually works, which confirmed our suspicions. Read our complete analysis here

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Basically what replaces the high explosive warhead of the standard AGM-114 Hellfire on the AGM-114R9X is a metal core hub with six blades that swing out around it, pummelling and shredding anything in its path.

It's not clear what has caused what seems like a sudden uptick in the use of this highly unique weapon, but it appears that it is becoming the weapon of choice for targeted assassinations by the U.S. in Northern Syria. Still, one thing remains unclear about this missile system—its guidance system. 

Most variants of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles use semi-active laser guidance where the seeker on the missile homes in on a laser spot being emitted from an aircraft overhead or by operatives on the ground. It is highly accurate for a weapon that is packed with high explosives. But in the case of the AGM-119R9X, which has no area blast effects at all, it has hit all three targets we have evidence of perfectly in the exact same spot and angle. This begs the question, does this weapon have man-in-the-loop guidance in which a person literally flies the missile into a precise point on the target via command data-link? 

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MQ-9 carrying Hellfires and GBU-12s. 

Israel, in particular, has perfected this method of smart weapons delivery and uses it on many disparate weapons in their munitions in their inventory. On the other hand, maybe new high definition optics and lasers and a very sensitive seeker head are being used to place the weapon more accurately using a traditional laser-guided weapon concept of delivery? Or maybe something else going on here. We just don't know. But considering the missile, which is roughly three and a half feet wide when its blades are extended, has perfectly nailed its target every time we know of and in the same exact spot, some sort of extremely accurate guidance is definitely being used. 

The video below of the Israeli Spike missile gives a good idea of the accuracy man-in-the-loop control provides. 

A particular MQ-9 has been repeatedly spotted high over Aleppo in recent days, which is not unusual. But what is unusual is its loadout. It appears to carry two data-link pods, four Hellfire derivatives, and an external fuel tank. This would make sense. One pod would link with the missile in-flight for man-in-the-loop control while the other would link with a controller of that missile. Executing a man-in-the-loop weapons engagement via the Reaper's satellite data-link may be troublesome. As such, the Reaper would act as a surveillance and launch platform, with the missile guidance being carried out by another party. The other pod would handle this data-exchange. 

Rami al Sayed/AFP/Getty Images

We'll have to keep an eye out to see if the trend of using these nasty and highly accurate weapons continues and against who. Regardless, as it sits now, it is glaringly clear that America's 'blade missile,' and those that employ it, have had quite a busy week.

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com