HomeGlobal Defence UpdatesIsrael unveils SkySonic hypersonic missile defense interceptor

Israel unveils SkySonic hypersonic missile defense interceptor

Source : Breaking Defense

Israel unveils SkySonic hypersonic missile defense interceptor
An artist rendition of Rafael’s Sky Sonic concept. The weapon is being billed as a counter-hypersonic air defense missile. (Rafael)

Israel unveils SkySonic hypersonic missile defense interceptor

Jerusalem: In response to what it describes as the “geopolitical reality” of hypersonic weapons, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems today announced that it is developing a new interceptor missile called Sky Sonic geared specifically at the hypersonic threat.

In a statement, the company described the missile as a “groundbreaking defensive response to the growing threat of hypersonic missiles.” The firm plans to show the weapon design off at next week’s Paris Air Show, aiming squarely at the European market.

The missile is currently being developed and has not undergone live testing yet. The multi-stage interceptor, developed for several years in secret, uses a Hit-to-Kill system that Rafael has used in other interceptors, per a company briefing held today. It is a distinct system, but in line with Rafael’s other air defense systems and missile interceptor it is designed with an open architecture to allow maximal flexibility, according to the company. Rafael has presented the project to the US and, the company said, feedback from has been positive.

The timing of the unveiling is notable. Just a week ago, Iran announced that it has developed a hypersonic missile called Fattah, that is a two-stage missile which exits the atmosphere and separates from a re-entry vehicle that then maneuvers toward a target. While there is some skepticism about whether Iran has that capability, it’s yet another sign of how hypersonic threats have proliferated over the last few years: Russia has used air-launched hypersonic Kinzhal missiles in Ukraine, while both China and North Korea claim to have developed hypersonic missiles.

“Rafael has identified a marked increase and arousing interest in the international arena with proven operational capabilities and a geopolitical reality that has created many opportunities. We are following the developments and emerging threats in the current security context and are developing the most advanced defense systems,” said Dr. Yuval Steinitz, Chairman of Rafael. “Project Sky Sonic is an innovative, unique development of its kind for the hypersonic weapon threat,” he said.

A “successful defense against hypersonic threats requires a multifaceted approach that involves not only countering their speed but also effectively tracking, detecting, and intercepting their unpredictable flight paths,” Rafael’s statement said.

Rafael officials described the hypersonic threat in a presentation and also showed a video of the Sky Sonic. Rafael officials stressed that “hypersonic” threats describe missiles that are not merely travelling fast (ballistic missiles travel past Mach 5) but also involve missiles that glide or maneuver. This means they bring together the threat of speed and also the kind of difficulties involved in intercepting low-flying cruise missiles that may maneuver to fly up valleys or change direction.

“Developing a comprehensive defensive response to hypersonic threats presents numerous complex challenges, including detection and tracking difficulties that necessitate a synchronized sensor system capable of accurately identifying and locating the threat throughout its trajectory,” the company said in a statement.

An interceptor launched against a hypersonic threat needs to be able to fly “swiftly” toward the target and also “the interceptor must exhibit exceptional maneuverability and operate on a non-ballistic trajectory to effectively pursue and neutralize the hypersonic threat.” The company did not give a range for the interceptor.

Company executives reiterated that they have developed a new technology with this missile, although they could not elaborate on specific aspects of that technology. Nor would the company give a range for the interceptor.

However, the company is clearly keeping both the local threat and potential exports in mind. Israel recently announced historically high defense exports of $12.5 billion. Rafael is one of Israel’s three largest defense companies and the traditional research and development center within Israel’s defense sector.

Rafael is showcasing its other systems, such as Iron Dome and David’s sling at the Paris Air Show. It will also be discussing Iron Beam, the laser air defense system that is being coupled with Iron Dome. This system is supposed to be operation in the near-term. The company says the “system delivers unparalleled accuracy in intercepting rockets, mortar projectiles, missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and UAV swarms from several kilometers to a few hundred meters away. As an integral part of the comprehensive Iron Dome air defense system, the Iron Beam significantly enhances its defensive capabilities.”

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