I confess, I’m fascinated by military tech. Always have been. It’s awful, of course. So much military tech is about killing people, and, well, you know—killing people, by and large, is pretty much wrong, right? Yeah.
And yet, there it is; I’m still intrigued by military technology. I mention this because over the weekend the US, at the order of President Uncle Joe, killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda. They killed him with a modified Hellfire missile fired by a Predator drone (and yeah, there’s a whole deeply weird, perverse taxonomy at work here—a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone). They killed him “as he stepped onto the balcony of a safe house in Kabul.”
Him. Just him. Just al-Zawahiri. Nobody else. No so-called ‘collateral damage’.
They were able to do that because the Department of Defense, in conjunction with the CIA and engineers from Lockheed Martin, modified an AGM-114 Hellfire missile and turned it into an AGM-114 RX9—basically a hundred-pound laser-guided Ginsu Knife Bomb. Instead of explosives, this missile has—and I’m NOT making this up—six sword-like blades that pop out of the sides of the missile moments before it strikes the target (and by ‘target’ I mean ‘the person the CIA really seriously no-shit wants to kill’).
The idea, of course, is to limit the number of casualties. Most versions of Hellfire missiles involve explosives, which are notoriously indiscriminate. When shit blows up, anybody in the blast radius is going to get fucked up. That’s a problem. I mean, if the person the CIA really want to kills is, says, standing on a balcony in Kabul and you fire an explosive weapon at him, you’re going to see a lot of kinetic damage to the building and anybody in it (and anybody near it). Kinetic damage is a nice way of saying blown the fuck up.
When a hundred pounds of inert steel with half a dozen blades hits a target on a balcony, the damage is significantly more limited.
This missile is so precise that it can target a specific side of a moving vehicle. When the CIA decided to kill Abu Khayr al-Masri, who was riding in the passenger seat of a Toyota (okay, I’m not certain it was a Toyota) the missile hit the passenger side of the Toyota. And yeah, it also killed the driver, because we’re still talking about a hundred pounds of metal WITH a half dozen sword blades flying at mach 1.3, so it’s not like the driver could duck and escape. And sure, anybody in the back seat probably got dinged up and will very likely require years of serious therapy. But still, that’s better than a fucking explosion, right?
Let’s face it. The Hellfire AGM-114 RX9 is a monstrous weapon. We should look on it with horror. And yet, I’m fascinated by it. I have deep, contradictory feelings about the US (or any nation, for that matter) conducting extra-judicial assassinations. But I also think terrorists like Ayman al-Zawahiri (and yeah, he was a terrorist) can’t be allowed to roam around free to plot acts of terror. Given the option, I’d prefer they get a fair trial and, if convicted of a crime, incarcerated. But that wasn’t really an option, was it. So I’m perversely glad that some heinous engineers put this Ninja Ginsu missile together.
What was it Walt Whitman said about containing multitudes?