Mystery Guided Munition Executes Incredible Maneuver In Strange Airstrike Footage

Recent airstrike footage from Afghanistan released by the Pentagon shows a peculiar engagement in which a guided munition appears to approach a target from one direction before abruptly flipping back entirely on itself to make its very short final attack run from the completely opposite direction before detonating in a big fireball. In the video, which was pointed out to us by War Zone reader Trevor Austin, the munition in question is nearly featureless, which only adds to its mystery.

The video is from near the Afghan city of Farah. A day after the Taliban fought their way into the provincial capital they were pushed out as a result of an onslaught of air strikes and Afghan security forces offensives. While the battle can be deemed a victory of sorts, the fact that it occurred at all is a stark reminder that America’s ‘Infinity War’ in the battle-ravaged country is far from over and the security situation for Afghans continues to deteriorate in many areas. 

The final sequence in the video in question shows a group of fighters escaping along a road to a small L-shaped rural structure as the eye in the sky—which in this case is a high-definition thermal camera—looks on. Clearly, the decision was made to take out the fighters along with their cover and the air strike ensues, obliterating the hovel and anything or anyone inside. It’s during this final act that we see the munition, which doesn’t have a thermal signature of a powered missile, heading one way before abruptly reversing course in an entirely different direction at low altitude and then exploding. 

Upon close examination of the video, the munition doesn’t appear to have any consistently discernible features. It literally looks like a medicine capsule. Infrared video, even of the high-definition variety, can make it hard to identify small details, especially of an object flying quickly through the frame. There are artifacts and bleeding in each frame that can make it look as if something is there momentarily when it isn’t. The magnification of the camera can also play tricks on the perception of objects speed and angle of flight. But taking these factors into account, the footage still looks like nothing we have seen before, especially in terms of kinematic performance. 

After talking it over, the only possible explanations we can come up with at this time is that maybe this is a GBU-44 Viper Strike that was dropped out of the back of an AC-130 and ended up guiding on its target very late in its flight. This still doesn’t make that much sense based on what we are seeing, and the Viper Strike’s big ‘X’ shaped wings aren’t apparent in the video. The AGM-175 Griffin missile would more closely match the shape of the weapon we see in the video due to its smaller control fins, but even those don’t appear in the FLIR footage, and I have never heard of a Griffin being able ot pull of such extreme manuevers. 

Then again maybe it’s a GBU-69/B Small Glide Munition, but its center-mounted wing isn’t really visible and we haven’t seen those in action just yet although they are definitely deep in series production. 

GBU-69/B Small Glide Munition, Dynetics

Lower-cost, lower-collateral damage, and vastly more compact air-to-ground weapons are all the rage right these days and there are many in development, some of which can fit on smaller unmanned aircraft. There are also other specialized air-to-ground munitions and unique methods of delivery that remain undisclosed for various purposes. So it’s possible that what we are seeing here is something entirely new. 

We also don’t know what the platform is filming the attack or launching the weapon, or if they are even one in the same. Our best bet is that it’s an AC-130W or an unmanned aircraft, but we can’t be sure at this time. 

What do think we are seeing here? Let us know in the comments below.

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Tyler Rogoway


Tyler's passion is the study of military technology, strategy, and foreign policy and he has fostered a dominant voice on those topics in the defense media space. He was the creator of the hugely popular defense site Foxtrot Alpha before developing The War Zone.