June 01, 2012
Credit: Credit: Rafael
Bill Sweetman and Michael Fabey•Washington and christina mackenzie•Paris
“A revolution in air defense” is what Rafael Executive Vice President Lova Drori calls current trends in protecting ground and sea targets from all kinds of air-delivered threats, from the cheapest unguided rockets and mortars to combat aircraft and the most advanced cruise and ballistic missiles.
There are several main trends at work, Drori says. One is a widening variety of missiles—“if you have one or two systems to protect against everything, it's not cost effective”—and another is the networking of launchers in a single air defense system. “If a threat comes in, the commander can push a button and an interceptor will be launched, but the commander will not necessarily choose which one.”
Rafael is expanding its air-defense offerings both up and down the threat scale, adding to the established and successful Spyder, based on ground-launched versions of the infrared-homing Python and active-radar Derby air-to-air missiles (AAMs). Both missiles can be mixed in pallet-mounted box launchers, in two sizes—long-range versions with boosters and medium-range weapons without. While the Spyder vehicle can be equipped with an infrared turret for self-contained engagements, the launchers are designed to be connected to a radio-frequency net that also links surveillance and tracking radars and command centers.
Both missiles can operate in lock-on-after-launch (LOAL) mode—they have a programmed course to an intercept point at launch, which is updated via datalink during flight. This makes the entire system much more flexible than earlier tactical surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), where a dedicated tracking radar followed the target through the entire engagement. And as active, electronically scanned array (AESA) technology from airborne and shipboard radars makes its way into ground-mobile radars, the system becomes all the more capable.
Rafael's new low-end product is the Iron Dome counter-rocket and mortar (C-RAM) system, for which Drori sees three customer groups: nations like Israel, with unstable or hostile border communities; armies that need to protect forward-deployed forces from C-RAM attack; and countries that want to protect coastal sites—such as nuclear power installations—from small-boat attack. As Drori points out, the lesson of the disruption of Japan's Fukushima plant by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami is “you don't need to penetrate the concrete, just disable the cooling system.”
The company's other major new program is David's Sling, initially being developed as a lower-tier complement to Israel Aerospace Industries' Arrow. “If the Americans select it, it will be huge,” says Drori. “If not, it will still be big. If customers buy according to needs, everyone should buy it. The potential market is huge.”
The Stunner missile component of the David's Sling system, codeveloped with Raytheon, has several unique features. It is a hit-to-kill weapon and consequently needs no fuzing system. It has a dual-mode seeker combining a millimeter-wave AESA with an imaging infrared seeker. A multipulse motor (plus first-stage booster) and 12 control surfaces combine Mach 5-plus speed with endgame energy—the last pulse can be saved for the final intercept.