The killing of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri by a Central Intelligence Agency drone strike on July 31 was the latest US response to 9/11. Politically, it amplified existing distrust between US leaders and the Taliban government in Afghanistan. The killing also exposed compromises in the 2020 Doha peace agreement between the US and the Taliban.
But another story is emerging with wider implications: the speed and nature of international weapons development. Take the weapon reportedly used to kill al-Zawahiri: the Hellfire R9X “Ninja” missile.
The Hellfire missile was originally conceived in the 1970s and ’80s to destroy Soviet tanks. Rapid improvements from the 1990s onwards have resulted in multiple variations with different capabilities. They can be launched from helicopters or Reaper drones. Their different explosive payloads can be set off in different ways: on impact or before impact.
Then there is the Hellfire R9X “Ninja”. It is not new, though it has remained largely in the shadows for five years. It was reportedly used in 2017 in Syria to kill the deputy al-Qaida leader, Abu Khayr al-Masri.
The Ninja missile does not rely on an explosive warhead to destroy or kill its target. It uses the speed, accuracy and kinetic energy of a 100-pound missile fired from up to 20,000 feet, armed with six blades which deploy in the last moments before…