The Hellfire missile offers an interesting perspective, not just on military technology, but product lifecycle in general.
The missile was initially developed with a shaped charge, which means the explosion it generated was intense, but channeled to produce a very narrow, focused blast. This make sense as its primary application was taking out heavily armored tanks and vehicles.
The precision of the missile drew military leaders to desire its use in targeting groups of enemy troops, so it was modified to provide a larger explosion radius. The problem was that the Hellfire was not only taking out the intended targets, but placing innocent civilians and infrastructure at risk.
To help address this concern, the Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency developed a variant of the Hellfire during the Obama Administration.
And according to a report in the Wall Street Journal last week, the agencies have been utilizing the R9X in Syria and Yemen since 2017. It’s credited with taking out two very high-profile Al-Qaeda targets.
The R9X is a missile, but instead of being packed with explosive ordinance, it’s designed to discharge six metal blades seconds before impact. And seeing as how they’re traveling at up to 1,000 mph, they pretty much cut through whatever is their way – like the roofs of armored vehicles or buildings.
So they’re not only precise and effective, there’s no explosion. They R9X essentially reverts back to the Hellfire’s initial mission of an extremely precise strike.
The operational aspects of the R9X are fascinating, but use of the 100-pound missile, according to a report by Defense One, has thus far been limited to less than 10 instances.
The premise is similar to that of the railgun - hit the enemy with something very hard that’s traveling very fast. The main difference is that while the railgun’s targets are 100 miles away, the R9X has a maximum effective range of about six miles, and can essentially be fired from the ground or air on platforms already in use.