Artillery: Missile Merchants of Israel


May 29, 2024: For over fifty years Israel has been developing ballistic and air-to-surface missiles for its own military as well as export. These include ballistic missiles that can be launched from fighter-bombers.

Rampage is a 14.7 meter-long, 570 kg, air-to-surface missile with a 150 kg warhead. Range is 150 to 250 kilometers. The missile includes GPS/INS navigation systems. Speed is subsonic and varies between 700 and 900 kilometers an hour. Rampage is based on Elbit’s EXTRA ground-launched rocket.

Delilah is a 187 kg helicopter or fixed wing aircraft or surface launched loitering cruise missile (LACM) with a range of 250 -300 kilometers. The missile costs about half a million dollars. The surface launched version uses a rocket booster to get airborne. A small turbo jet makes possible several hours of loitering time to search for enemy radars or other ground targets or moving ships at sea. A remote human controller decides which target to attack. Delilah was developed in the 1980s and entered service in the 1990s.

EXTRA (Extended Range Artillery) is a 570 kg 306mm GPS-guided rocket with a range of 150 km and a 120 kg warhead. Each missile costs about $120,000. EXTRA entered service in 2016 and uses a variety of launcher vehicles and is similar to the Americans HIMARS and its GMLRS missile.

Gabriel is an anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM). The latest version, Gabriel 5, entered service in 2020. The first version of Gabriel appeared in 1973 as a 430 kg anti-ship missile similar to the later (1977) American Harpoon but with a shorter range of 20 kilometers. Gabriel 2 appeared in 1976 and Gabriel 3 in 1978 with a range of 36 kilometers and 30 percent heavier than Gabriel 1. Gabriel 3 was also available for use from aircraft, which gave it a range of 60 kilometers. These early models sank nine enemy ships in the 1970s and were rightly feared by Israel’s enemies.

Israel did not need an anti-ship missile with a long range, like Harpoon which could travel 120 kilometers, because Israel had a coastal navy that might have to fight neighbors like Egypt to the south or Lebanon to the north. From the start Gabriel had a system which allowed the missile to move along a few meters above the water, making it difficult to detect.

Gabriel 4 was different as it had a range of 200 kilometers and a small turbojet, similar to cruise missiles, for sustained flight. Gabriel weighed 960 kg which made it similar to a cruise missile. The Gabriel 4 warhead was much larger but the multiple guidance systems were similar to the earlier Gabriels. It took nearly two decades for the larger and much more capable Gabriel 5 to appear. The three guidance systems were upgraded but remained fire and forget, or fire and update, via an encrypted data link, midway to the target. Finally, there was fire and onboard radar update as the target area was approached. The guidance system could detect the desired target and head for it. Gabriel 5 has more countermeasures for enemy electronic defenses and each missile costs $5 million. Gabriel has been exported to 14 countries and survives because it was developed by a country that was constantly under threat of attack and is quicker to modify their weapons to better deal with a threatening neighbor.

LORA is a 1.6 ton ballistic missile with a range of 430 kilometers and a 570 kg warhead. The guidance system includes GPS, INS, and a TV camera for making sure the target is hit in the intended location. With just GPS/INS the missile will land within five meters of the aiming point. LORA can be fired from a variety of truck mounted launchers. Israel does not use LORA but two export customers, India and Azerbaijan do. India recently began manufacturing LORA under license.

Jericho 1: A short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) with a range of 500 kilometers.

Jericho 2: A medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) with a range of 1,500 - 3,500 kilometers. Entered service in 1989.

Jericho 3: An intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) with a range of 4,800 - 6,500 kilometers. Entered service in 2011.

Currently active Jerico’s are all solid fuel ballistic missiles and currently include the 26-ton, two-stage Jerico II with a range of 1,500 kilometers and the 30-ton, two or three stage Jerico III with a range of 6,500 kilometers. The third stage is used when the missile is used as a satellite launch vehicle (SLV). Israel manufactures is own satellites.

Production of the 6.5-ton Jerico I began in 1965. This missile was retired in the 1990s but over fifty of these missiles are still operational and maintained in storage, just in case. Israel never revealed how many of the Jericho missiles it built, except for those used as SLVs. Eventually modified Jericho missiles known as Shavit were built for SLV operations. Shavit’s weigh from 30.5 to 70 tons and has four stages. The last stage uses liquid fuel rockets for precise positioning of satellites into orbit. Israel does not export Jericho missiles.

One exception was South Africa which manufactured versions of the Shavit SLV/ICBM in the 1980s until 1993. In 2023 Israel used Shavit to launch Ofek (Horizon) 13, the latest version of its Ofek surveillance satellites. Israel has built and launched its own military satellites since 1988. Before Ofek 13, the most recent surveillance satellite launch was in July 2020 when another photo satellite, the Ofek 16 was put into orbit. Ofek 16 was described as an upgrade of the Ofek 11 design, which first went up in 2016. At the time Ofek 11 was described as an upgraded Ofek 10, which went up in 2014.

Beyond that the Israelis offer few official details of Ofek and other intelligence gathering satellites. Israel was the eighth nation to develop and build its own satellite launch capability. Israel uses only its own launchers for military satellites. Since these launchers are based on Israeli Jericho ballistic missile designs, it was cheaper using foreign launch services for commercial satellites. For example, Israeli communications satellites are now put into orbit by American SpaceX rockets, which have the cheapest prices as a result of SpaceX innovations, notably reusable first stages that land under their own power after separating from the second stage carrying the satellite.

Ofek satellites have proved very reliable and are now built to recover from problems that often lead to the loss of satellites from other nations. For example, in late 2016 Israel launched Ofek 11. While the satellite achieved orbit it soon lost communications with ground control. The Ofek was built with fail-soft self-repair software and it was hoped whatever was wrong could be fixed. After nine days ground control regained contact, Ofek 11 was sending back digital images. Since then, Ofek has remained fully functional but it is still unclear if it will remain that way for eight years, the designed useful life of this Ofek.

In addition to photo satellites, Israel also has a military-grade radar satellite called TekSar. One of these, in 2008, was launched using an Indian launcher. This was more of a good-will gesture towards a new ally and major purchaser of Israeli defense technology. That use of an Indian launcher for a military satellite was a one-time event and the Indians were eager to show the world their satellite launch capability. In addition to Israeli-built Ofek and TekSar birds, Israeli intelligence also uses Israeli-built Eros B and Eros A civilian photo satellites for some military needs.

The first Ofek went up in 1988 and the last few have been incremental upgrades of the Ofek 9 which entered service in 2010. The Ofek 9 weighed about 300 kg and used a new generation of sensors that were able to see objects as small as 55 cm. Ofek 10 was a little heavier with new electronics providing better resolution and Ofek 11 was more of the same. Ofek 16 has higher resolution cameras, which can apparently get below 50 cm resolution as well as providing higher quality photos using more capable software. All the Ofek spy sats are mainly for keeping tabs on Iran and what Iran is doing in Syria and Lebanon.

There have been failures. In 1998 Ofek 4 failed and in 2004 so did Ofek 6. This led to design changes that included the fail-soft capabilities that saved Ofek 11. Each of the failed launches cost Israel about $100 million, which includes the cost of the satellite and the launcher, which are based on the Israeli Jericho ballistic missile.

The satellite launcher version of Jericho is called Shavit. The first two stages of the Shavit are also used for the Israeli Jericho 3 IRBM. With a range of nearly 5,000 kilometers, the Jericho 3 can drop a nuclear warhead anywhere in the Middle East. Jericho is a 30-ton, solid fuel, two stage missile with a one-ton payload. There are several dozen Jericho 3s in service, mainly as a nuclear deterrent that can be launched from underground silos.

Israel has often used its spy satellite capabilities for diplomacy. In 2012 Israel built and launched a photo spy satellite for Italy that cost $182 million for the satellite and launch, which was carried out in 2015. This was part of a deal where Italy agreed to buy an equal value of Israeli military gear as part of a deal where Israel bought $993 million worth of Italian jet trainers. Italy managed to cover this with the purchase of two AWACs and a spy satellite from Israel.

In 2014 it was revealed that Israel had quietly and anonymously contributed some vital targeting information for the air campaign against ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in Iraq, and possibly Syria as well. It wasn’t that the U.S. doesn’t have spy satellites that could have provided this, but the Israeli fleet of spy satellites does not have worldwide responsibilities, spend most of their time over Middle Eastern nations and have been doing so for many years. The Israelis had satellite data immediately that it would take weeks, months or longer for American satellites to compile. The Israeli contribution was kept quiet and the data provided had been “scrubbed” to remove any evidence that it was from Israel. But none of the Arab nations contributing warplanes to the operation were surprised and, except for Iran, which openly insists ISIL is an invention of the Americans, British and Israelis, no one complained.

In 2021 Israel sold Vietnam a military surveillance satellite that Israel built and launched. The satellite was the latest version of the Ofek with a resolution of 50cm. This is accurate enough to show buildings, roads, and vehicles. Israel has at least two of the latest Ofeks in orbit and has exported them for nearly a decade. Some of these export customers prefer not to be identified. In terms of resolution and other known factors, Ofek is little different from the many commercial photo satellites that provide unclassified photos to the media and general public.




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