Artillery: Precision That Backfires


November 4, 2014: During the recent war with Hamas a unique Israeli artillery unit, Meitar, fired over 250 Tamuz guided missiles. What made this special was the Tamuz, with a range of 25 kilometers, has a radio link and a camera in the nose that enables trained operators to “drive” the missile to a very specific target. This could be a moving vehicle, or a window into a room where there is something you want to destroy. Meitar is considered an elite units as the Tamuz missile requires skilled operators to make sure the final moments of flight take the missile to the target.  Aside from the time and effort to recruit and train the operators, Tamuz is also expensive ($200,000 each). In the Israeli military there is an ongoing debate as to whether it is worth the additional cost to use Tamuz to avoid enemy civilian casualties when a 155mm artillery shell, costing $1,200 could be used. During the recent Hamas war 19,000 high-explosive 155mm shells were fired (plus another 15,000 dispensing smoke or flares). Tamuz missiles caused few, if any, civilian casualties while the 155mm shells caused a lot. The Palestinians regularly lie about their civilian casualties and encourage their civilians to act as human shields for Hezbollah men with guns or launching rockets at Israel. Even if Tamuz replaced all 155mm shells, there would still be Palestinian backed stories of civilian casualties. But the Palestinians would have a lot less to work with. 

Israel is not going to replace all 155mm shells with Tamuz missiles because they cannot afford it. With the Israeli defense budget under constant pressure, why buy more Tamuz missiles when there are other items you need to save Israeli lives. After all the main job of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) is to protect Israelis, not civilians enemy fighters are hiding amongst. Despite that many critics of Israel consider 155mm shells a war crime and insist that only precise guided weapons should be used when the enemy is using civilians for human shields.

It was not until 2011 that Israel revealed this special, and until then secret, version of their Spike missile. Tamuz is based on the Spike ER, with a range of 25 kilometers. Israel released videos of Tamuz in action, showing the missile being flown into the window of a distant building. Israel used a few Tamuz in 2006 during the war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. During the 2008 war in Gaza only 26 Tamuz were used.

Tamuz is part of the Israeli Spike family of anti-tank missiles. All the Spike missiles use a lot of common technology. At the low end, there is the Spike SR, with a range of 800 meters, followed by the Spike MR with a range of 2,500 meters, then the 4,000 meter Spike LR and the 8,000 meter Spike-ER. The larger missiles, like the Spike LR missile, are shipped in, and fired from a sealed storage/launch canister. For example, the Spike LR container (with missile) weighs 13 kg (28.6 pounds). The canister is mounted on a 13 kg fire control system (10 kg/22 pounds without the tripod) for aiming and firing. The missile in its canister has a shelf life of twenty years. Spike uses a fiber-optic cable so that the operator can literally drive the missile to the target, although the missile can also be used in "fire and forget" mode.

In 2009 Israel revealed the existence of a longer range version, called Spike NLOS (Non Line-Of-Sight). This one, apparently used for Tamuz, has a range of 25 kilometers and weighs 70kg (155 pounds), twice what the then current largest version of Spike weighed. Spike NLOS could be fired at a target the operator could not see (but someone else, with a laser designator, could see).

Later in 2009 Israel introduced an even longer range missile called Jumper. This one put eight missiles, and a control unit in a nine (3x3) cell box (cargo type container) measuring 1.4x1.4x2 meters tall (4.3x4.3x6.2 feet). Each 63 kg (129 pound), 150mm guided missile is 1.8 meters (nearly six feet) long and has a range of 50 kilometers. The missile uses GPS and laser seeker for guidance.

While the Spike series of missiles is a popular export item, not many nations are eager to buy Tamuz. It is too expensive to buy and operate compared to other options.






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