Murphy's Law: Israel Defends NATO


October 20, 2021: After years of sales efforts, and a growing reputation for state-of-the art, combat tested weapons, Israel is selling more and more to NATO nations, which have long considered themselves the best alternative for American high-tech equipment. Since 2018 Israel has been the tenth largest arms exporter and has been closing in on 9 th place Spain and 8 th place Britain. Israel has often surpassed European and American offerings and one of the latest examples is the Czech Republic purchase of four batteries of the Israeli Spyder (Surface-to-air PYthon and DERby) air defense systems for $630 million. It is a SHORAD (Short Range Air Defense) system to protect key industrial and government facilities as well as nuclear power plants and airports. This is the first time Israel has made such a major air-defense sale to a NATO country. Israel has a complete range of air defense systems, most of them combat tested. Other NATO nations have long provided a variety of air defense systems and this is the first time a major competitor from outside NATO has established a foothold. Russia and China have tried, but are faced with security risks as both countries are hostile to NATO.

Each Spyder battery is mobile with everything mounted on trucks. A battery consists of a system control vehicle, a radar vehicle, a resupply vehicle and six missile launcher vehicles each with four missiles. If trucks are used, all vehicles can use transport aircraft like the C-130 for rapid movement.

In 2016 Rafael, the manufacturer of the Spyder, introduced an even more mobile version that uses tracked vehicles instead of wheeled ones. The tracked vehicle carries four missiles, the radar and fire control system. This version is meant to accompany fast moving combat units.

Spyder has been around since 2005. Spyder is still available in the original, truck mounted version and that continues to be the most popular version. While a Spyder launcher can carry both heat seeking (Spyder SR) and radar homing (Spyder MR) missiles, customers can save some money by purchasing batteries that just use Spyder SR, which uses a less expensive radar.

Spyder launchers can carry the Python 5 heat seeking missile (3.2 meters/ten feet long, 105 kg/231 pounds, with a range of 15 kilometers) or the Derby radar guided missile (3.6 meter/11.2 feet long, 121.4 kg/267 pounds, with a range of 30 kilometers). The Derby is a larger Python, with more fuel and a radar-controlled guidance system. Python has an 11 kg (23 pound) warhead while the one on Derby is 23 kg (51 pound). The Spyder MR radar system has a maximum range of 100 kilometers. The missiles can hit targets as high as 9,000 meters (28,000 feet) and as low as 20 meters (63 feet). At least one Spyder battery was purchased by the Israeli military but most have been exported to at least eight customers.

Inspirations for Spyder were earlier systems using air-to-air missiles as SAMs (Surface to Air Missile). Israel, a small country which already developed and used several of its own air defense systems, had little need for Spyder. Israeli firms noted that some of their export customers were interested in a new air defense system using the American AMRAAM radar guided missile. Rafael investigated that and realized they could create a more flexible and cheaper competitor. Spyder was a success but that did not seem to hurt an earlier competing Norwegian system.

In the 1990s a Norwegian firm developed the NASAMS (Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System) anti-aircraft system using AMRAAM as a SHORAD SAM. NASAMS uses the American AMRAMM radar guided air-to-air missiles but fired from a six-missile container instead of an aircraft. This ground based AMRAAM weighs 159 kg (350 pounds) and has a range of 30 kilometers while it's radar can see out 50-70 kilometers. The missile can hit targets as high as 21 kilometers (65,000 feet). A NASAMS battery consists of 12 launcher vehicles (each carrying six missiles), eight radar vehicles, one fire control center, and one tactical control vehicle.

What makes the AMRAMM so effective as a SAM is the capabilities of its guidance system, which is about two thirds of the $400,000 missile's cost. Testing also revealed that AMRAAM could be used to shoot down cruise missiles. Norway believed that the combat proven AMRAAM used by NASAMS was a good long-term choice for air defense because the United States is constantly updating the missile.

Norway pioneered the use of AMRAAM as a surface-to-air missile and other systems have been developed using AMRAAM. But the Norwegian version is seen as the best of the lot. Norway uses it as do at least a dozen nations that have purchased it.

Much earlier, in the late 1960s the U.S. Army developed the Chaparral System, using an earlier model of the Sidewinder heat seeking air-to-air missile. Four ready to fire Sidewinder missiles were mounted on a tracked vehicle along with eight missile reloads. Each had a range of six, later nine kilometers and could hit targets as high as 3,000 meters (10,000 feet). There was no radar, just an optical sight modeled on what a fighter pilot would use for this short- range missile. In the 1980s a FLIR (heat sensing) sighting unit was added. Chaparral remained in U.S. service into the 1990s and was exported as well.




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