The latest version of the Israeli Gabriel anti-ship missile, Gabriel 5, has evolved into a basic design that, because of co-development deals between IAI, the Israeli developer and a Singapore defense firm (ST Engineering), produced the Blue Spear missile. A separate arrangement with British firm Thales produced the Sea Serpent missile. Gabriel 5 entered service in 2020 and was adopted by Israel and Finland. Blue Spear followed in 2021 and was purchased by Estonia and Singapore. Sea Serpent is a modified Blue Spear missile competing to become the new Sea Serpent missile for the Royal Navy. Blue Spear is based on Gabriel 5, the latest model of the Gabriel missile but is now a multi-purpose missile for use against land targets as well as ships.
The first version of Gabriel appeared in 1973 as a 430 kg (950 pound) anti-ship missile similar to the later (1977) American Harpoon but with a shorter range (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 low (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 nearly a ton (960 kg) which made it similar to a 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 had more countermeasures for enemy electronic defenses. Blue Spear had ST Engineering added stealth features as well as upgrades to other components. The partnership with Thales for Sea Serpent introduced modifications of Blue Spear capabilities to meet Royal Navy requirements,
The Blue Spear has counter-measures, a very capable guidance system and a range of 290 kilometers. It is a 1.3-ton missile that is 5.5 meters (18 feet) long and travels as low as 2.5 meters (8.1 feet) over water while moving at over 800 kilometers an hour. The 150 kg (330 pound) warhead has insensitive (difficult to detonate by accident) explosives.
Britain wants a replacement for Harpoon on its new frigates. IAI has a joint marketing arrangement with Thales to develop a candidate for the competition to replace Harpoon. The Thales partnership will also help with other export and co-development deals.
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.