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At the recent FEINDEF exhibition in Madrid, Spain, RAFAEL drew attention to a selection of dedicated capabilities and products. On this occasion, ESD had the opportunity to speak to Maj Gen (ret’d.) Yoav Har-Even, RAFAEL’s President and CEO.

ESD: What does RAFAEL’s business record with the Spanish Armed Forces look like?
Har-Even: Rafael has a long and successful record of defence projects developed in Spain during the last 20 years. At the beginning of the 2000s, the Spanish Air Force acquired the LITENING II targeting and navigation pods and the RECCELITE reconnaissance pods for its F-18 fighters. During the last few years, LITENING III pods have been purchased for the EUROFIGHTER aircraft, and it is estimated that in the coming years the new and innovative LITENING 5 pods will be acquired as well as the RECCELITE XR. The Spanish Army, as well as the Marine Corps, have successfully been using the SPIKE LR missile for more than 10 years, while for a similar time, the SPIKE ER missile is the main weapon of the TIGER attack helicopters. The Spanish Navy has successfully operated the MK-38 naval RCWS with a 25 mm calibre cannon for more than a decade in different ships of its fleet. The programmes carried out by RAFAEL in Spain have had an important content of industrial co-operation with a high added-value of transfer of important technologies, such as the transferred capacities in the area of electro-optics that served as one of the main pillars that allowed the Spanish company Tecnobit to become a national and international benchmark in the area of electro-optical systems. RAFAEL has proven to be a reliable industrial partner and provides high technological added-value in every programme that has developed in Spain.

ESD: You mentioned the SPIKE missile system which, among others, is in use with the Spanish TIGER combat helicopter fleet. On a global scale, in how many countries is the missile in service, in what versions and for what applications? How many versions are there in total?
Har-Even: The SPIKE missile family of multi-purpose, multi-platform precision weapon systems has been operational and combat-proven for almost four decades. The SPIKE missile is an ‘off-the-shelf’ 5th generation precision guided missile, which includes an electro-optical seeker and a bi-directional data link, enabling ultra high accuracy and enhanced lethality. Today, the family is in use with 33 armies, navies, air forces and special forces around the world, with more than 5,500 missiles fired in training and combat. SPIKE is offered in different applications (shoulder-launched, tripod, vehicle, vehicle-towed launcher, helicopter).

The SPIKE missiles have already accumulated a vast track record of target engagements such as enemy tanks, armoured vehicles, soft vehicles, incoming manoeuvring armoured VIEDs (Vehicle Improvised Explosive Devices), static and mobile radars, marine vessels, and enemy anti-tank/mortar squads and, of course, structural targets (such as enemy ammunition storage, enemy forward-based headquarters or enemy infrastructure).
For the combat helicopter, the main advantages of the SPIKE family include the ultra-long 30km stand-off range and Non-Line-of Sight (NLOS) attack capacities, which increases aircraft survivability dramatically (in comparison to laser-guided munitions which force the pilot to get very close to the target) and the passivity of the EO seeker, unlike the laser guided munitions, which can be detected upon lasing on the objective.
The SPIKE Family includes the following off-the-shelf products:

  • SPIKE NLOS (Non Line Of Sight): 30km, 75 kg;
  • SPIKE ER2 (Extended Range): 10km (ground launch), 16km (rotary launch), 34 kg;
  • SPIKE LR (Long Range): 5.5km (ground launch), 6.5km (rotary launch*), 13.4kg. An RF data link is under development, which will allow LR2 to reach 10 km in rotary launch;
  • SPIKE SR (Short Range): 2,000 metres, man portable, multi-purpose electro-optical guided missile system.

    RAFAEL’s SAMSON 30MM remote-controlled weapon station with SPIKE and the TROPHY active protection system (Photos: RAFAEL)

ESD: What capabilities does the FIREFLY variant of the SPIKE family provide for the dismounted infantryman? Is it in service?
Har-Even: FIREFLY is a revolutionary, innovative miniature electro-optical tactical loitering munition, designed for light manoeuvring ground forces such as infantry, marines or special forces. As a variant of RAFAEL’s SPIKE Family, the FIREFLY features a dual seeker, target tracker, homing algorithms, computer vision, safe & arm fusing mechanisms and HMI (Human-Machine Interface). These features served as a basis for the development of the FIREFLY and the tailoring of the weapon system to its unique mission profile of urban combat.

The FIREFLY weapon system kit includes three miniature LMs (Loitering Munitions) and a CU (Control Unit) based on a ruggedised tablet with a military standard bidirectional data link.

FIREFLY round weighs only 3 kg and is rapidly deployed within seconds. It is portable, durable and includes a rugged airframe withstanding the harsh environment of urban combat. Its single-user operation is designed for the dismounted soldier – light, small and agile.

The operation of FIREFLY is very intuitive, with no special skills required. FIREFLY enables overmatch to break combat deadlock, and has a lethal effect on stationary and moving targets with or without line-of-sight to operator.

FIREFLY has an abort/wave-off capability and full, safe returnability to the operator up to attack command. It can be operated day and night, and has low visual and acoustic signatures.

FIREFLY is already under contract for thousands of munitions to a first customer and planned for fielding during 2020.

ESD: RAFAEL is among the bidders for the 30mm turret to equip part of the future DRAGÓN 8×8 armoured vehicle fleet of the Spanish Army. Considering that the requirement is expected to specify both manned and unmanned turret systems, how can you respond to the need?
Har-Even: RAFAEL began presenting its potential solutions for this programme more than ten years ago. Some of them were so well-received that even the initial requirements were modified, in which, for example, the possibility of unmanned turrets had not been contemplated. Today, the situation is almost the opposite. The unmanned turret is a mandatory requirement in most of the 8X8 programmes worldwide, while the manned turret is questioned due to its high weight, internal space consumption and reduced protection to the crew. We believe in the unmanned turret as the ultimate solution for combat vehicles, we put all our efforts in developing and producing the best unmanned turrets and this is the solution we propose for the DRAGÓN 8×8. The integration of missiles that are already in the Spanish inventory, which is a requirement of the programme, is an element of zero risk for us since we are developers of both systems and this kind of integration has already been done for various users of turrets. Moreover, our solution will also allow us to use new models of the SPIKE missile without requiring any modifications in the future, such as the ability to use the new SPIKE LR2 missile. Other solutions that RAFAEL presented, such as the TROPHY Active Protection System (APS), were initially considered ‘desirable’ and are now becoming an essential requirement. We can even supply a 30 mm unmanned turret with TROPHY and SPIKE, all integrated with the same turret by the same OEM.

ESD: How can the Spanish industry take advantage of your company’s bid in the scope of the DRAGÓN programme?
Har-Even: In addition to developing and selling systems, RAFAEL is a company that is committed to its client and to the local industry partners, giving a substantial technological added value that stays in the country for many years after programme execution. Since RAFAEL works continuously to implement the corporate culture of creating partnerships around the world with governments and leading defence industries, it is also willing to transfer production to Spain, and we believe that this contribution is an important part in ensuring the success of any programme, and in particular the 8X8 DRAGÓN programme.
Besides, the greatest contribution we can offer to the DRAGÓN programme is ‘peace-of-mind’ to the user, both from the technical-operational point of view of the solutions we provide, as well as the successful experience of the Spanish Armed Forces in all the programmes that RAFAEL has completed in Spain during the last 20 years, proving time and again the complete fulfilment of our commitments. Several of our systems, of increased complexity, have been fully operational in Spain for many years. Some of the employees of our subsidiary in Spain have been decorated for their delivery and assistance in areas of conflict operations, and whenever they have been required, they have worked side-by-side with the Spanish troops keeping our systems permanently operational.

SPIKE missile launched from a Sikorsky BLACK HAWK helicopter

ESD: Your exhibit at FEINDEF included a display of SAMSON ‘Mini’. What applications has this weapon station been designed for and what is special about it?
Har-Even: The SAMSON Mini dual-axis, gyro-stabilised RWS is designed for use on any wheeled or tracked combat vehicle, fast attack boats and other platforms requiring improved offensive capabilities. The system enables target engagement with enhanced accuracy, while maximising crew protection from enemy fire.

This single-weapon RWS accommodates a variety of armaments, including a 5.56mm SAW and LMG, 7.62 mm GPMG and GATLING gun, 12.7 mm HMG, 14.5 mm, 40 mm AGL, ATGM launcher, ASM, fed by high-capacity magazines. Supported by a ballistics-protected multi-sensor sight pod, with an optional mechanism for super elevation ballistic angle calculations, SAMSON Mini provides a ‘round-the-clock’ response to high-manoeuvring battlefield challenges.

The system is mature and in service with more than 11 NATO countries and many other users around the world.

ESD: On a global scale, we are observing increased efforts towards digitisation programmes for military forces. Against this background, what contributions can RAFAEL make to support these efforts?
Har-Even: There are numerous international digitisation programmes requiring tactical communication solutions. This provides us with a particularly interesting platform to offer our BNET SDR communication system. RAFAEL has been a communications provider for many years, despite its low profile in this realm. What we offer is a patented system that was developed based on insight with decades of experience in the development of C4I solutions. RAFAEL holds various patents pertaining to the BNET system, with proprietary capabilities which enable leap frog performance over the competition. This provides unparalleled operational advantage, enabling hundreds and even thousands of users to be seamlessly connected without requiring any communication infrastructure, with superior voice situational awareness and wide data streaming in the manoeuvring battlefield. We live in a world of IoT, where everything is and needs to be connected, and so does the battlefield. Smart and effective management data dissemination is an essential requirement when looking at today’s close combat or large formation battles. RAFAEL has once again tapped into this requirement, and not only are we providing the means to close loops quickly, but years of development of a system that will do just that, FIRE WEAVER, designed to connect all the sensors and shooters in the battlefield, and to manage the attack process, including targeting and fire selection. Fire Weaver instantly selects the most relevant shooter for every target acquired, enabling multiple, simultaneous, precision strikes on time-critical targets within seconds of their acquisition. This capability enables for better usage of the munition and more efficient battle management with lower risk to friendly forces.

The FIREFLY loitering munition is expected to enter service with a launch customer in the course of 2020.

ESD: How do you assess RAFAEL’s short- and medium-term perspectives?
Har-Even: I believe that our ongoing annual investment in Research and Development of more than 8% of our revenues each year, our legacy and experience with our local and international customers, our dialogue with the users and our strategy to forge teaming agreements and co-operation with international companies, will continue to bolster our position as a defence company that generates technological breakthroughs, both by forecasting the way the battlefield is evolving and by tailor-making our solutions to suit the particular needs of each of our customers. One example of this is our strategic M&A move to acquire 50% of Aeronautics, which now awaits regulatory authorities’ approvals. This will enable RAFAEL to become a provider of ‘state-of-the-art’ lower-tier tactical UAV class platforms with its advanced ISR and communication capabilities, and more.

ESD: Considering that the issue with this interview will be published prior to DSEI in London, what are the particular highlights that you will be presenting at DSEI 2019?
Har-Even: At DSEI, we plan to present our all-in-one solution of all combat-proven solutions for armoured vehicles, aimed towards the BOXER and the CHALLENGER, comprised of our 30mm SAMSON RWS, integrated with our SPIKE missile launcher and the TROPHY active protection system for armoured vehicles, heavy, medium-weight and light, operational in the IDF, recently sold to the U.S, and under contract for more than 1,700 units in total. These will be exhibited on a Rheinmetall BOXER AFV model. We will also present our SPIKE Family of multi-purpose missiles including the 5th generation SPIKE LR2 and ER2. In addition, we will have on exhibit the DRONE DOME anti-drone system which we have sold to a number of users around the world, the MIC4AD air defence command and control system.

The interview was conducted by Jürgen Hensel.