In response to what it refers to as the “geopolitical reality” concerning hypersonic weapons, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems made an announcement regarding the development of a hypersonic interceptor missile named SkySonic.
According to a statement released by the company, the missile is described as a groundbreaking defensive solution in response to the growing threat of hypersonic missiles. Rafael plans to unveil the weapon design at the upcoming Paris Air Show, with a clear focus on targeting the European market.
Presently, the missile is in the developmental phase and has not yet undergone live testing. This multi-stage interceptor, which has been secretly under development for several years, incorporates a Hit-to-Kill system similar to the one employed in other interceptors by Rafael, as mentioned in a company briefing held earlier today. While it is a distinct system, it aligns with Rafael’s existing air defence systems and missile interceptors, featuring an open architecture that allows for maximum flexibility, as stated by the company. Rafael has also presented the project to the United States, with the feedback received reportedly being positive.
The timing of this unveiling holds significance. Just a week ago, Iran declared the development of a hypersonic missile named Fattah, which is a two-stage missile capable of exiting the atmosphere and separating from a re-entry vehicle that manoeuvres towards its intended target. Although there is some scepticism regarding Iran’s actual capability in this regard, it serves as yet another indication of the proliferation of hypersonic threats in recent years. Russia has already deployed air-launched hypersonic Kinzhal missiles in Ukraine, while both China and North Korea assert that they have successfully developed hypersonic missiles.
Dr Yuval Steinitz, Chairman of Rafael, stated, “Rafael has recognized a significant rise in interest and engagement in the international arena due to our proven operational capabilities, along with the geopolitical reality that has created numerous opportunities. We are closely monitoring the developments and emerging threats within the current security landscape and are committed to developing the most advanced defence systems. Project SkySonic represents an innovative and unique response to the hypersonic weapon threat.”
Rafael’s statement emphasizes that successfully countering hypersonic threats necessitates a multifaceted approach, which includes not only addressing their speed but also effectively tracking, detecting, and intercepting their unpredictable flight paths.
During a presentation, Rafael officials provided insights into the hypersonic threat and showcased a video of the SkySonic missile. They stressed that “hypersonic” threats encompass not only missiles travelling at high speeds (ballistic missiles surpass Mach 5) but also those that possess glide or manoeuvring capabilities. This convergence of speed and the complexities involved in intercepting low-flying cruise missiles, which can manoeuvre through valleys or change directions, intensifies the threat.
The company’s statement highlights that developing a comprehensive defensive strategy against hypersonic threats presents numerous intricate challenges, including difficulties in detection and tracking, which require a synchronized sensor system capable of accurately identifying and locating the threat throughout its trajectory.
To effectively intercept a hypersonic threat, an interceptor must be capable of swiftly reaching the target and exhibit exceptional manoeuvrability while operating on a non-ballistic trajectory. However, the company has not disclosed the range of the interceptor.
Company executives reiterated that the SkySonic missile incorporates new technology, although they were unable to provide specific details about the technology itself. Likewise, no range was disclosed for the interceptor.
Nevertheless, it is evident that Rafael is considering both the local threat landscape and potential exports. Recently, Israel announced historically high defence exports amounting to $12.5 billion. Rafael, as one of Israel’s three largest defence companies and a prominent research and development centre within the country’s defence sector, remains cognizant of these factors.
At the Paris Air Show, Rafael will showcase its other systems, including Iron Dome and David’s Sling. Additionally, the company will discuss Iron Beam, a laser-based air defence system that is being integrated with Iron Dome. This system is expected to become operational in the near future. According to the company, this integrated system offers unparalleled accuracy in intercepting rockets, mortar projectiles, missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and UAV swarms, covering distances ranging from several kilometres to a few hundred meters. Serving as an integral component of the comprehensive Iron Dome air defence system, Iron Beam significantly enhances its defensive capabilities.