Weapons: Video Gamer Special


July 24, 2020: The Israeli manufacturer of the Spike NLOS (Non-Line Of Sight) long-range (25-32 kilometers) missile has entered into a joint production deal with a Polish firm to provide Spike NLOS for use in Polish “tank-destroyer” vehicles. These would be equipped with eight missile launchers and communications equipment enabling the vehicle crew to get target information from front line troops, UAVs or other aircraft. With these capabilities the NLOS vehicles could launch surprise mass attacks on distant enemy armor.

Spike NLOS does not rely on a laser designator or GPS to get to its target. Instead the missile has an encrypted data-link with the launching vehicle that puts the missile close enough to the targets for the onboard target detection and recognition system to identify tanks and attack.

The Polish tank-destroyer vehicle concept came about in part because the Polish army still has hundreds of operational Cold-War era tracked and wheeled IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles) that can be transformed into Spike NLOS vehicles. Some of this old armor can be converted into reload vehicles, quickly replacing the empty launchers with missiles. The launch vehicles contain a three-man crew along with all the communications and fire control equipment needed to take fire requests, coordinate with other launch vehicles and, as commanded, launch Spike NLOS missiles at distant targets. The launch vehicles would rarely get close enough to enemy tanks to come under fire and the long range of Spike NLOS enables many launch vehicles, dispersed over a wide area, to quickly launch a mass attack on groups of enemy tanks and other vehicles. All these extra capabilities are expensive and each Spike NLOS missile costs about $300,000 each.

Spike NLOS is also becoming popular as an airborne system. In late 2019 the U.S. Army ordered some Spike NLOS for use on their AH-64 helicopter gunships. Israel is already using Spike NLOS on their AH-64s, as are South Korea and several other export customers. Until 2013 Spike NLOS had only been a ground-based weapon and ever since then Israel has been trying to get the Americans to try airborne Spike NLOS themselves. Because of Spike's very long range, several export customers operated Spike NLOS from transport helicopters (like the UH-60) which are more vulnerable if they get close to the front line.

The United States had earlier tried to develop something similar to Spike NLOS in 2004. This was Netfires NLOS-LS, an effort that was abandoned in 2010 after spending over a billion dollars and failing to get the system to work. Meanwhile, Israel already had Spike NLOS. It’s never too late to try a similar foreign weapon that works, which the U.S. has done increasingly since the 1990s. In mid-2019 the U.S. Army tested Spike NLOS used as a SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) weapon by firing it against a hypothetical mobile Russian air defense system. With Spike NLOS the AH-64 could fire on the Russian system while outside the range of the Russian missiles. Those tests were successful.

Spike NLOS missiles weigh 70kg (155 pounds), about 50 percent more than more popular and much cheaper Hellfire missiles. Spike NLOS can be fired at a target the operator cannot see but someone else, preferably with a laser rangefinder and digital communications, can. Better yet Spike NLOS has a vidcam in the nose that enables an operator to find the target, mark it and let the guidance system do the rest. Flight time of Spike NLOS is 60-80 seconds, depending on how far away the target is. The missile operator, often with years of video game experience, can view what the Spike NLOS vidcam sees and can select the target. The operator can change course somewhat and, in practice, there is time to spot the target and mark it so the guidance system can remember it and home in on it. An operator can mark targets for several missiles to ensure that two missiles do not go after the same target. For a mass Spike NLOS attack each vehicle can be assigned a sector for their missiles to prevent targets getting hit by more than once. Spike NLOS is most effective if used against tanks that are moving up to the combat zone and don’t believe they are vulnerable to enemy fire yet. That means APS (Active Protection Systems) are not yet turned on yet to detect and defeat incoming projectiles. With APS off tanks are more vulnerable to missile attacks. Russia has also been installing ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor) on the tops of its latest tanks to offer protection from missiles like Spike that attack from above, against the thinner top armor.

Spike NLOS evolved from earlier weapons. Spike NLOS evolved from an older secret weapon code-named Tamuz that entered service in the early 1980s. This version required a highly trained operator to literally fly the missile all the way to the target. For two decades Tamuz remained a military secret. By 2000 advances in guidance systems, especially “fire and forget” capability, meant Tamuz was no longer so expensive. That was because it took even talented troops a long time to learn how to manually guide the missile on the Tamuz system. With improved “fire and forget” tech. Tamuz became the highly automated and easier to learn Spike NLOS and was then declassified.

Israel successfully used Spike NLOS during the 2006 war with Hezbollah in south Lebanon, the 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza and several other situations. Now that most of the details of what Spike NLOS is, where it came from and what it can do have been revealed, it is an increasingly popular export item. That is also because various versions of the missile, first as Tamuz then as Spike NLOS, had been in service since the 1980s. That meant the system was battle-tested and known to be very dependable and effective no matter what tech was used.

The ground version became more mobile as the control system became smaller, lighter and easier to use. As a result of that Spike NLOS missiles and control systems were mounted on infantry armored vehicles and used by British troops in Afghanistan as early as 2011. Later it was also mounted on unarmored trucks (like hummers). Israel continued to find new ways to use Spike NLOS as a vehicle-based system, especially for special operations (commandos and Special Forces).

Since the 1990s special operations forces have found new lightweight guided missiles a useful addition to the GPS guided rockets (GMLRS), artillery and bombs as well as laser-guided missiles they had on call. Situations still arise where not enough distant, (or airborne) guided weapons are available to support small teams of operators tracking key individuals or small groups in remote areas. These scout teams often have to watch a specific spot for days before the target shows itself and is positively identified. If the target is not fired on quickly, he will likely get away and the search will begin again.

This special operations solution was developed by the Israelis when they merged Spike NLOS missiles with off-road vehicles to produce a version of Spike NLOS that can be quickly mounted on an off-road vehicle which can then be transported by air (inside a small transport or slung under a helicopter) to a remote location and driven further into hostile territory to provide round the clock availability of precision missile fire against small stationery or moving (in a vehicle or on a motorcycle) targets day or night. This mobile Spike NLOS capability is available in different size pallets that contain four to eight Spike NLOS missiles plus the control equipment and radio. Like other versions of Spike NLOS, it is much easier for troops to become proficient operating Spike NLOS by practicing using computer simulators and the more user-friendly design.

The airmobile Spike NLOS system was first available using the Israeli Tomcar off-road vehicle. This 750 kg four-wheel “dune buggy” design has been around since 2005 and is regularly used along the Israeli southern border with Gaza and Egypt. Tomcar is exported to many other nations for special operations forces or border patrol in rough terrain. The latest version of Tomcar is a two-seater vehicle built with a flatbed in the rear to carry cargo. This vehicle can carry eight Spike NLOS weapons plus the control system. Even lighter systems are available carrying only four (or even just two) missiles. This is similar to the new Polish system but without the additional communications and fire control capabilities, plus the armor protection against small arms and shell fragments. U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has long been an avid user of such lightweight cross-country vehicles and might eventually try this pallet-based version of Spike NLOS.


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