They also call it the “ninja bomb.” Do you have any idea how excited my 10-year-old self would have been to know that my country has a ninja bomb?
Even now, I’m a little woozy.
Often military jargon is inscrutable to civilians, but not this time. The “flying Ginsu” is just what it sounds like: It’s a small drone-fired missile, except instead of explosives it’s equipped with … blades. Six big farking knives shoot out the sides of this thing in the final seconds before impact, shredding everything in its path — including jihadi masterminds. I almost don’t believe it’s real.
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) May 9, 2019
I need to lie down.
Ironically, as gruesome as the outcome of a “ninja bomb” strike is apt to be, it’s humane by the standards of air power. The point of the weapon is to limit collateral damage by removing bombs from the equation. The Obama administration reportedly began development of it in 2011, the same year Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, an American citizen, was killed in a U.S. airstrike targeting a leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen. The WSJ claims that it was being eyed as a “Plan B” for taking out Bin Laden at his compound in residential Abbottabad.
The Wall Street Journal was able to confirm two specific strikes in which it was used, one by the Defense Department and one by the CIA.
In January 2019, Jamal al-Badawi, accused of being behind the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 in a Yemeni port, killing 17 American sailors, was killed by an R9X fired by the Pentagon. The Pentagon has acknowledged the strike, which occurred in Yemen, though not the specific munition involved.
In February 2017, Ahmad Hasan Abu Khayr al-Masri, an Egyptian national who served as al Qaeda’s No. 2, was killed in Syria’s Idlib Province by an R9X fired by a U.S. aircraft operated by the CIA. The CIA doesn’t acknowledge airstrikes it carries out…
One former U.S. official said the weapon addressed a longstanding “right seat, left seat” problem, suggesting it is theoretically possible to kill someone sitting in the passenger seat of a moving car, but not the driver. (Two militants reportedly were killed in the February 2017 strike.)
The “right seat, left seat” goal is not an abstract scenario. Via Gizmodo, it’s very, very real:
Multiple reports that a drone strike in Idlib killed Abu Khayr al-Masri, deputy leader of Al-Qaeda (second in command to Ayman al-Zawahiri). pic.twitter.com/JKmJ1ClCE8
— Tobias Schneider (@tobiaschneider) February 26, 2017
Click on those photos to enlarge them and have a look at just how precise this thing is. It’s noteworthy that the “ninja bomb” was used to catch two fish as big as al-Badawi and al-Masri considering that the WSJ claims it’s used “infrequently.” Presumably top jihadis are sufficiently wise to America’s concerns about collateral damage that they make a point of hiding in crowds at nearly all times. If you want to take them out without taking out innocent people too, you have no choice but to use a weapon that doesn’t go “boom.”
Two things I don’t understand, one technical and the other tactical. Technical: What do the blades on the side of the missile actually add to it? If you’re firing 100 lbs of metal at a human being from several thousand feet up, you don’t need to Ginsu him to make the impact lethal. The Journal says that the blades help cut through the tops of cars and buildings, but (a) surely the strike would be fatal through a car roof whether or not the blades are attached and (b) how could you be sure you’re targeting the right person inside a building, even if you have heat signatures showing the position of people inside? Do the blades provide extra aerodynamic efficiency, maybe? I.e. help keep the missile precisely on target as it punches through a building’s roof by slicing cleanly through instead of absorbing the blunt impact?
Tactical: Why is, or was, this thing a secret? Letting the enemy know that we have a flying blender that can reach him even in the middle of a busy city street seems like a useful psy op to me. There’s no place to hide. If that knowledge leads them to go to ground, so much the better. The less freely they’re able to operate, the more logistically difficult terrorism becomes. Plus, letting the world know that the U.S. is working on ever more precise weapons in the name of limiting accidental deaths is good press for the Pentagon.