PAS 2023 – Rafael evolves its airborne weaponry and introduces a new air-to-air 6th generation missile

Paolo Valpolini

Constantly improving its portfolio of airborne weapons Rafael of Israel can provide air-to-air and air-to-ground solutions for 5th generation aircraft, and is already looking at 6th generation fighters, an air-to-air 6th generation missile being unveiled at the Paris Air Show

The Spice family of air-to-ground guided munitions is being constantly improved, artificial intelligence-driven seekers being adopted, while in 2021 the Spice 250 ER, for extended range, was unveiled. During the 2023 edition of the Paris Air Show a teaming agreement between Rafael, Diehl Defence and Hensoldt Sensors related to the latter weapon was signed, aiming at the German Air Force Eurofighter EK program.

Adding a small jet engine and using a smaller warhead allowed increasing the range to over 300 km, while on-board communications allow data exchange with the launch platform and the use in swarms to saturate enemy defences.

The Spice 1000 has become the weapon of choice of the Israel Air Force, and is used from range in congested environment, against targets protected by advanced multi-layered air defences, its capability to navigate allowing operations in GNSS-denied areas with a hit accuracy less than metric.

The third key element is the Ice Breaker, which incorporates all the la test technologies in a 400 kg class weapon, that can be used on board numerous aircraft, an F-15 carrying seven such weapons, a Eurofighter Typhoon six, F-16 and a Rafale four, the Ice Breaker having also been integrated on the F-35. Fully made of composite, two different warheads available, respectively 250 and 500 lb, its turbojet allows high subsonic speed with a range of over 300 km. Its SATCOM data link ensures a battle damage assessment capability.

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However the newest member of Rafael’s airborne weapons portfolio exhibited in Paris was the Sky Spear, which the Israeli company defines as the first 6th generation air-to-air missile. According to Rafael the new missile is able to cover the entire envelope from very short to very long-range engagements, short meaning around 30 nautical miles while long was defined as “deep inside the long range definition” without adding more details.

The missile is equipped with a solid propellant three-pulse rocket motor, a solution adopted by Rafael in numerous surface-to-air missiles, this solution allowing to optimise energy management. The first stage is obviously used at launch, the other being exploited when necessary depending on the type of engagement and on the target behaviour, the third stage being normally used in the very last phase of the attack in order to maintain a high energy for manoeuvring as well as for ensuring maximum kinetic energy on the target in case of direct hit.

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The seeker is a brand new development defined as “very sophisticated” and is capable to acquire the target at long range, according to Rafael, and features good ECCM capabilities.

According to the Haifa-based company the Sky Spear can be fitted to any western aircraft; should a customer require it for the F-35 a slight modification should be made, once the US would authorise its integration and following technical negotiations with Lockheed Martin. The new missile is slightly shorter than the I-Derby long range weapon, hence around 3.5 metres, its control surfaces also being smaller.

EDR On-Line understood that the Sky Spear is in the development stage, Rafael looking for a government partner to share the full development effort.

Photos by P. Valpolini