What Are Ninja Bombs? Pentagon's New Secret Missiles Kill Target With Blades

Hellfire drone secret missile ninja bomb
A U.S. Air Force predator drone armed with a Hellfire missile lands at a secret air base after flying a mission in the Persian Gulf region on January 7, 2016. John Moore/Getty Images

The U.S. government is using a new secret weapon to kill high-value targets across the world with brutal precision and a lower risk of civilian casualties, an investigation has revealed.

According to The Wall Street Journal, both the Pentagon and the CIA have employed the R9X to kill targets in vehicles and buildings without endangering bystanders.

The weapon is a modified Hellfire missile, with the explosive payload removed and six long blades attached, which deploy moments before the missile reaches its target. Victims are killed by either the speeding 100-pound projectile—which lands with enormous force—or the deadly blades that tear through anything in their path.

The U.S., like other nations, has previously used concrete bombs—weapons without explosive warheads designed to kill using kinetic energy—as a way to avoid collateral damage caused by warheads detonating. But the R9X's added blades mark an evolution in design.

The Journal confirmed details of the weapon and its uses with more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials. It is also known colloquially as "the flying Ginsu" or "the ninja bomb" for the blades it carries. It has been under development since early 2011, the newspaper said.

Anonymous officials with knowledge of the bomb's deployment say it is used infrequently and only in special circumstances, such as for high-value targets in sensitive locations. Officials said the Department of Defense has only used the RX9 around six times, in such places as Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia.

A similar missile was reportedly considered as a backup option to kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden when he was located in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, though ultimately it was not needed.

Its development was driven by an order from President Barack Obama to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties in America's long-running campaign of airstrikes, stretching from East Africa to South Asia. The RX9 also offers military planners the option to kill targets who surround themselves with human shields to deter strikes.

The Journal was able to confirm two instances of the RX9's use, one by the Defense Department and one by the CIA. In January 2019, Jamal al-Badawi—the suspected mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Colewas killed by an airstrike in Yemen. An RX9 is believed to have been used. The Pentagon has confirmed the strike but not the type of weapon fired.

In February 2017, senior Al-Qaeda commander Ahmad Hasan Abu Khayr al-Masri, an Egyptian, was assassinated in Syria. He is believed to have been killed by an R9X fired by the CIA, although the agency does not acknowledge its airstrikes.

In both cases, witness statements and photos of the aftermath indicated this was no normal Hellfire. The lack of explosive damage and debris indicated a different type of warhead or perhaps an entirely nonexplosive weapon.

The Journal was unable to discover any details about the R9X's development timeline. The CIA, Pentagon and Hellfire missile maker Lockheed Martin all declining to comment.