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PIORUN-NG – A New, Advanced VSHORAD from Poland

Piorun and Piorun NG on display at MSPO 2023. Photo: Defense-Update

The Polish Mesko group and its partner, Telesystem-Mesko, are developing a new Piorun Very Short-Range Air Defense (VSHORAD) missile generation. The PIORUN NG (Thunderbolt) was displayed for the first time at the MSPO exhibition in Kielce, Poland, in early September. PIORUN-NG is scheduled to begin flight testing in late 2023. The new missile is positioned to become one of the leading new-generation VSHORAD missiles of a Western origin.

PIORUN VSHORAD missile. PIORUN-MG will have a similar design but different components, including a new proximity fuze, propulsion, and seeker. Photo: Defense-Update

PIORUN is a shoulder-fired VSHORAD weapon that can also deploy on a pedestal (two launchers) or integrated with a twin-barrel 23mm gun carried on a light truck. Developed as a follow-on to the GROM (based on the Russian Strela 2 missile), the PIORUN is positioned as an equivalent to the Russian IGLA. The Polish missile is effective against fixed-wing, rotary-wing, and unmanned aerial vehicle targets, flying from 400 meters to 6.5 kilometers and at an altitude from 10 meters above ground to 4,000 meters. The missiles were widely used by the Ukrainians in the Ukraine War and, according to initial reports, have demonstrated impressive performance. Compared to other heat-seeking missiles, the Piorun was more reliable in engaging targets at higher altitudes; some reports have claimed successful engagements of low signature targets, such as unmanned aerial vehicles at a distance of six kilometers.

The development of the New Generation (PIORUN NG) was based on the lessons learned with previous models. It uses a new multispectral seeker with improved cooling. The rocket engine uses an improved energetics composition; the improved warhead optimizes efficiency in the presence of enemy countermeasures by employing advanced electronic-counter-countermeasures (ECCM) and proximity activation based on active or passive sensing. The different preset modes will be activated from a built-in computer integrated into the launcher.

The multi-spectral seeker uses a special housing that masks signals from the sides, enabling the seeker to ‘focus’ on signals from the forward direction. The seeker is sensitive enough to assess whether the target is flying towards (head-on) or away from the interceptor missile. Activation of active (RF) or passive (magnetic) proximity activates the warhead in the target’s proximity, thus denying the effectiveness of enemy ECM. In addition, PIORUN-NG will employ an algorithm that analyzes the behavior of flares, enabling the seeker to ignore hot and bright signals from sources that ‘behave’ like flares.

Equipped with a new multispectral seeker, improved propulsion, multiple fusing, enhanced ECCM, and enhanced target library, PIORUN-NG will provide enhanced situational awareness and target discrimination capabilities.

The most distinctive part of PIORUN-NG is the box-shaped apparatus applied on the muzzle, masking the seeker from interference from sectors other than the target’s direction. Photo: Defense-Update
PIORUN NG trigger, stock, and cooling cartridge. Photo: Defense-Update
PIORUN-NG computer interface shows nine preset buttons, enabling the user to define the target attitude, warhead activation selection, IFF, etc. Photo: Defense-Update

SSW40, an Automatic Grenade Launcher Debut at DSEI 2023

The new SSW40 grenade launcher from Rheinmetall. Photo: Rheinmetall

Rheinmetall is introducing at DSEI 2023 a new Squad Support Weapon (SSW) designed to fire 40mm grenade ammunition As fire support weapon for infantry squads. SSW is an automatic, magazine-loaded, shoulder fired grenade launcher, with a size and weight similar to an assault rifle.

The weapon use a recoil-reduction mechanism and self-regulating recoil system, enabling the SSW40 fire all available 40mm Low Velocity (LV) ammunition types as well as the Rheinmetall 40mm Medium Velocity (MV) ammunition. The new MV ammunition has significantly increased velocity and a flat trajectory, compared to the LV rounds, allowing targets to be engaged more quickly and increasing the effective range of the system to 900m. Until now, these grenades could be fire only by bigger and heaver automatic grenade launchers.

Development of the SSW40 will be completed in this year, the company said in a statement. The weapon will be able to use the HE Fragmentation (HEFRAG), Anti-Tank (HEDP) , Door Breaching (HEBE), Air Burst (HEAB), Training (TPM, TPM-T), Illumination / Fog, Flash&Bang and ‘tear gas’ Riot Control Ammunition (CS). Different grenade types can be loaded to magazines holding five grenades each, enabling grenadiers to quickly change ammo, use versatile firepower, and employ escalation of force when necessary, even against medium-weight armored vehicles. The interfaces on the SSW40 also allow the use of accessories, including laser light modules, fire control units, IR programmers for airburst ammunition, as well as integration on ring mounts and bipods.

The weapon will be able to use the HE Fragmentation (HEFRAG), Anti-Tank (HEDP) , Door Breaching (HEBE), Air Burst (HEAB), Training (TPM, TPM-T), Illumination / Fog, Flash&Bang and ‘tear gas’ Riot Control Ammunition (CS). Photo: Defense-Update

The new SSW40 grenade launcher from Rheinmetall. Photo:Defense-Update

IAI’s ACDC Concept Ads Self Protection, Special Operations Capabilities to Naval Vessels

A model of IAI’s ACDC containerized weapon system on display at DSEI2023. Photo: Defense-Update

IAI is introducing the modular All Capabilities Defense Container (ACDC) concept at DSEI 2023, packing a system of defensive and attack systems utilizing an ISO container system, enabling any vessel equipped to carry commercial shipping containers to operate the employ advanced capabilities for self-protection.

The system includes various means for self-defense, integrated and concealed within the shipping container. When the situation mandates activation of the ACDC, the covering panels unfold to expose the system’s elements, such as sensors mounted on telescopic masts and launchers of loitering weapons providing surveillance and strike targets that may compromise the safety of the platform carrying the ACDC. The system is designed as an all-in-one containerized weapon solution that detects, repels, defends, and defeats a wide range of attacks using soft and hard kill measures.

Typical ACDC Elements include MiniPOP EO/IR and Radar sensors and SIGINT systems forming the Drone Guard – Counter UAS Capability. Other effectors used in self-defense or attack include four or eight Mini Harpy – All-weather loitering weapons with triple seekers packed in sealed launchers, and Rotem L – a quadcopter-based loitering weapon designed for vertical take-off and landing, perch, and ambush. These LMs are packed ready for launch in drawers that automatically open before launch.

This 20-foot ACDC packs four Mini Harpy and Eight Rotem L loitering weapons, communications, and sensor systems, with an operator post, all placed inside a standard shipping container.

Packed into a standard 40 or 20-foot cargo container, the ACDC operates autonomously and is controlled by a single operator sitting at a bridge, combat information center, or inside the container itself. Each ACDC is tailored to the requirements of the mission at hand and configured with various sensors, anti-drone effectors, loitering munitions, and precision-guided weapons.

The ACDC is mounted on the vessel or critical asset using standard twist-lock attachments. It fits any vessel in most available spaces, adding significant combat capabilities without distinctive visual impact. Integrated into new or existing vessels like Frigates, amphibious landing ships, offshore patrol vessels, naval replenishment, and support vessels, or offshore rigs, ACDC brings an inherent combat advantage for short responses without the need for lengthy and expensive refits and is designed for customer operational requirements.

IAI unveils ROTEM Alpha, an Anti Tank Loitering Weapon

IAI’s Rotem Alpha unveiled at DSEI 2023. Photo: Defense-Update

IAI is unveiling at DSEI 2023 a new loitering weapon – Rotem Alpha, a new Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) tactical antitank loitering munition (LM) with capabilities that represent a change in the operational and combat approach to using loitering munitions, providing an advantage in the battlefield. ROTEM a
Alpha is a member of IAI’s VTOL LMs which also includes the smaller ROTEM L.

ROTEM Alpha can operate at a range of several tens of kilometers, it can fly continuously for 60 minutes or perch on vantage points for up to 24 hours. The system flies and hovers in a low-altitude profile to build battlefield situational awareness, and executes an attack, at selected targets upon operator command even under adverse weather conditions. If no target is chosen or operator decides to abort, the system is disarmed and recoverable.

The system weighs 25 kg and is carried by a soldier in a backpack. It is assembled in the field in minutes. When fully assembled ROTEM Alpha is ready for take-off in less than two minutes. As a VTOL platform, it can be launched and land between trees, structures, and other confined spaces.

A single operator controls the ROTEM Alpha via a Ground Control System (GCS). The operator can command the weapon to perch on a building or hill until the enemy appears.

Equipped with a sensor suite comprising an EO/IR and acoustic sensors, ROTEM Alpha can autonomously detect and locate enemy targets such as hostile fire sources, artillery, rockets, and missiles launchers. It can investigate and verify the target and engage it following the operator command, closing in to an impact using its sensors as seekers. The loitering weapon uses a large warhead comprising a shaped charge and shrapnel sleeve able to penetrate more than 600mm of ballistic steel

THeMIS Observe – Milrem’s Robotic Scout Unveiled at DSEI 2023

MILREM is displaying a new configuration of the ‘THeMIS Observe’, an ISR system that significantly increases a tactical unit’s reaction speed on targets while maintaining a stand-off distance from the enemy.

THeMIS Observe integrates several ISR systems including aconsists of a Squire radar by Thales, the HeviTrack-S camera by HEVI Optronics, Metravib Defence Pearl acoustic shot detection, and a remote weapon station. As a recent addition, the vehicle also features the Sequrests Mobile Multi Camouflage Cover providing significant signature reduction in visual NIR, thermal IR and radar.

The ISR sensors are mounted on an elevated mast that erects when the vehicle enters an observation position, enabling the vehicle to maintain a low silhouette while maintaining line of sight with the enemy positions.

Wireless Surface Charger to Power Drone Swarms

Rheinmetall Canada and Quaze are launching an innovative wireless charging solution for drones at DSEI 2023. The Drone Swarm Tactical OverWatch (DSTOW) module developed for Rheinmetall’s Mission Master UGV offers a unique solution enabling continuous, unattended and uninterrupted drone operations.

Although recent drone technologies have made strides in ISR operations, these aerial vehicles remain limited in range and endurance and need frequent replacement of batteries or lengthy recharging, requiring extensive human intervention. Current technologies can only charge one drone at a time. To address these issues, Rheinmetall and Quaze have developed the DSTOW module, a wireless surface charging solution that can power multiple drones at once. Using inductive charging, the technology does not require precise alignment; nor does drone size matter.

DSTOW was developed for the Rheinmetall Mission Master family of unmanned ground vehicles, and is compatible with all Mission Master configurations, it can also be fitted to the Polaris MRZR D4. It eliminates the need for cumbersome power cords, delivering uninterrupted power regardless of equipment or climate. Even when covered with water, sand, dust, snow, or ice, the charging surface technology works because of its volumetric power, enabling drones to be recharged up to 4 inches above the charging surface.

By automating the drone rotation and relay process, the DSTOW maintains fully charged drones that can remain in the sky, providing continuous surveillance – a critical advantage on modern battlefields where real-time persistent information is essential for superior situational awareness. The DSTOW system also includes an automated landing and take-off feature, similar to valet parking, allowing for uninterrupted operations. The system’s user interface is designed to control multiple drones in an automatic operation, making it possible to operate several drones simultaneously with a single device. Rheinmetall’s dedicated tablet and integrated soldier systems are both compatible with the DSTOW system, allowing for easy control of Mission Master vehicles, drones and their integrated payloads.

The DSTOW recharges all drones on the Blue UAS-Cleared List, enabling fully unmanned drone operations. It can charge as many drones as the surface’s power allows. For instance, if the surface capability is 500w, the DSTOW can power one drone or 500 1w micro drones. Furthermore, since the technology can deliver a high voltage charge, the system can support larger drone using high voltage systems.

Elbit Systems Introduce Find-and-Strike (FAST) Capsule at DSEI 2023

Elbit Systems has unveiled its latest development in the world of unmanned aerial systems: The Find-and-Strike (FAST) Capsule, combining the Skylark III and SkyStriker Loitering Munition (LM). FAST enables forces pursue independent missions collecting actionable tactical intelligence and offensive missions, synergizing each platform advantages to a single application, at the same time and place, saving the user on logistics, time and more importantly improving the crew expertise.

The Skylark III is a Small-Tactical Intelligence UAS, equipped with advanced intelligence gathering sensor. As a fixed wing platform, it is designed for extensive endurance of up to 18 hours, supporting ISTAR missions in GPS denied enviroment. The Skylark III is capable of integrating a range of payloads including high-resolution Electro-Optical gimbaled payload, SIGINT sensors, laser designators and more.

The SkyStriker is a fully autonomous loitering munition that can locate, acquire and engage operator designated targets with a flexible warhead of up to 10 Kg, enabling high-precision performance. SkyStriker can be launched from a variety of ground and aerial platforms, including from a dedicated canister mounted on Elbit Systems’ Precise and Universal Launching System (PULS) rocket artillery systems. Equipped with an electrical engine, the SkyStriker enables covert operations of up to 2 hours and with a range of 100km. With unique algorithms, the system can precisely strike targets while maintaining a “man in the loop” even in GPS and communication denied environments.

Despite the differences of the two platforms, thanks to the “FAST Capsule” they can both be stored, carried, launched, operated and controlled by the same equipment and by the same crew. The FAST Capsule is deployed and operated by a crew of two, launched via a pneumatic launcher and mounted on a vehicle or vessel. Both can be assigned to the same mission simultaneously managed by a shared Ground Control Station.

IDF to Replace Skylark Mini UAS with new Skylark1 eVTOL Drones

Skylark 1 eVTOL mini UAS. Photo: Elbit Systems

Israel׳s Defense Forces will replace the Skylark 1 Miniature UAS with larger, more modern, VTOL capable platforms developed by Elbit Systems. The IDF operates the Skylark since 2008. The newest member of the family, the Skylark I eVTOL, weighs up to 20kg and is equipped with an electric motor for forward flight, and a VTOL kit for hover takeoff and landing. Designed to provide an organic airborne ISTAR capability for lower tactical echelons.

The company will supply the new drones to the Artillery Corps of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), under the with the Skylark 1 Transitional Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) Small Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems (STUAS) combined with through-life maintenance services for these new systems as well as other STUAS systems operated by the IDF Ground Force’s (Skylark 1 & Skylark 3.)

Weighing up to 20kg, the new Skylark 1 eVTOL is a man-packed or vehicle-based platform offering the endurance and range of a fixed-wing STUAS with the capability to hover, take-off and land vertically. Combined with onboard analytical capabilities, the Skylark 1 eVTOL significantly expands the operations of tactical forces and enables fast deployment in order to organically perform Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions. Under the contract, Elbit Systems will replace the Skylark 1 with the new system that will be integrated with the operational fleet used by the IDF Ground forces.

Elbit System’s Skylark 1 eVTOL drone is slated to replace the Skylark 1 mini UAV after 15 years of service. Photo: Elbit Systems


A collage of Armor Highlights from IDEF 2023.

Turkey’s International Defense Industry Fair (IDEF) 2023 was a hub of groundbreaking innovation, especially in armored vehicles. Renowned Turkish manufacturers like BMC, FNSS, OTOKAR, Nurol Makina, and Katmerciler participated, unveiling a range of novel platforms and configurations. Defense Update’s Weapon Systems Analyst Lt. Col. (Ret) Dan Zeevi attended the exhibition and reports.

The event offered a vivid display of what tops the Turkish Army’s wishlist—advanced turrets and active protection systems to multispectral camouflage and guided missiles. This article delves into the key highlights, focusing on the technologies that seem to align well with the future of armored warfare, based on the extensive experience gathered by the Turkish armed forces, defense industries, and their customers in battlefields in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Arabian Peninsula.

These armored vehicle companies, often competitors in both the domestic and international markets, showcased platforms with similar configurations, as they are aligned to the government directives to seek cooperation among local companies rather than join foreign partners for those technologies. This trend has been evident since the US embargo imposed after Turkey bought S400 air defense systems from Russia. The result – many of the vehicles on display were equipped with similar or identical turrets, APS, and other weapon systems, like Aselsan’s active protection systems and turrets, TDU’s multispectral camouflage systems, and Roketsan’s guided missiles, all of which are of significant interest to the Turkish Army.

Otokar showcased two variants of Tulpar; seen in this picture is the Aselsan 35mm gun Korhan Turret System, firing airburst armor piercing, high explosive, or airburst ammunition. Photo: Defense-Update

Otokar and FNSS presented two solutions for a medium-weight tank — Tulpar and Kaplan. Otokar exhibited two variants of the Tulpar tank; one outfitted with the Cockerill 3105HP 105mm gun turret and the other featuring Aselsan’s 35mm gun Korhan Turret System, capable of firing ATOM airburst, armor-piercing, and high-explosive ammunition. This turret also integrates Aselsan’s Akkor active protection system. FNSS displayed several Kaplan Armored Fighting Vehicle (AFV) variants, including the Kaplan Medium Tank (MT). Unlike Tulpar, Kaplan MT has already been integrated into an army’s inventory and represents a joint development between FNSS and PT Pindad of Indonesia. The Kaplan Hybrid and Shadow Rider Heavy robotic vehicle were also interesting configurations on display.

At IDEF, FNSS displayed the Kaplan MT with the Cockerill 3105 (105 mm) turret and Pulat active protection system. Photo: Defense-Update
The BURÇ Air Defense System displayed by Roketsan is an integrated turret mounted on an FNSS 8×8 RARS Scout vehicle. Photo: Defense-Update

Another key highlight was the BURÇ Air Defense System, an integrated turret mounted on an FNSS 8×8 RARS Scout vehicle. This system has four Retinar AESA radar panels, eight Sungur missiles, and a 3x20mm cannon. It is designed to detect and neutralize drones and loitering munitions.

Not to be overshadowed, the ARMA II 8×8 has shown impressive strides, with two new variants on display—a mobile repair and recovery vehicle and an armored fighting vehicle equipped with the Mizrak turret, which includes a 30mm canon and two OMTAS guided missiles. Despite ARMA’s absence in local orders, its export credentials are strong. The UAE has already procured 400 units of a total 700-unit program anticipated, and Kazakhstan is set to purchase over 800.

The new mobile repair and recovery vehicle and an armored fighting vehicle are displayed at the IDEF 2023 exhibition. Photo: Defense-Update

ARMA II’s Mobile Repair and Recovery Vehicle variant is designed to support mechanized units operating ARMA AFVs. The vehicle features a multifunctional capability, ranging from recovery operations to ground leveling and counter-obstacle measures.

BMC, which has dominated recent armored vehicle contracts, displayed its flagship platforms: the Firtina-II T-155mm Howitzer and Altay Main Battle Tank. Other noteworthy additions included the Vuran 4×4 Multi-Purpose Armored Vehicle and the ALTUĞ 8×8 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC), showcasing a modular ceiling concept for mounting turrets up to 105mm in caliber.

The ALTUĞ 8×8 Armored Personnel Carrier and Armored Combat Vehicle represented the Next Generation Armored Vehicle family. The vehicle displayed was equipped with Aselsan’s Korhan 35mm gun turret. Photo: Defense-Update
BMC has won the lion’s share of armored vehicle contract opportunities; the results were on display at IDEF 2023, notably, Firtina-II T-155mm Howitzer and Altay Main Battle Tank, which BMC delivered to the Turkish Armed Forces with the events and ceremonies it held in the first months of 2023. Photo: Defense-Update

IDEF 2023 was a testament to the rapid advancements in armored vehicle technology, particularly from Turkish manufacturers. The innovations on display were impressive, from medium-weight tanks to anti-drone systems and multi-purpose armored vehicles. As these technologies transition from prototypes to fielded systems, they will significantly enhance armed forces capabilities.

Rafael Debuts the Sky Spear Long Range AAM at the Paris Airshow 2023

Rafael introduces a new air-to-air missile at the Paris Air Show 2023. Photo: Defense-Update

Rafael is showing a new 6th Generation long-range air/air missile called SkySpear. The missile uses a double fin design at the tail and four canards at the front; a similar design was used in the main segment of the ground-to-air Stunner interceptor.

Coupled with a three-pulse rocket motor (supporting the boost, sustain, and endgame pulses), this design provides superior maneuverability and performance throughout the flight and engagement envelope. SkySpear is designed as a long-range air/air missile. Rafael’s sources did not specify the range but said it significantly exceeds the I-Derby ER, which is Rafael’s longest-range AAM.

Another new element in the SkySpear missile is its RF seeker. Unlike the Stunner’s dual seeker, SkySpear uses only an RF seeker. Rafael performed tradeoff studies that proved that the new seeker could deliver the required performance with a single seeker at the extended range and under contested electronic warfare.

Rafael presented the SkySpear to several potential customers and will proceed with full-scale development of this new missile upon the customer’s commitment.

SkySpear addresses the need for long-range intercepts, as reflected by Raytheon’s latest variants of AIM-120D AMRAAM, the European Meteor from MBDA, and the Vympel R-37 (RVV-BD) from Russia. Unlike the ramjet propulsion the Meteor uses to meet range performance, SkySpear relies on more efficient rocket propulsion to achieve the required range and maneuverability.

SkySpear is slightly shorter than the I-DerbyER, which means it may be fitting weapon bays limiting the use of other missiles. The new RF seeker technology allows for early lock-on, a more accurate end game, and a substantial leap in EW immunity.

New Israeli Weapons on Display at the Paris Airshow

RAFAEL's air and missile defense systems on show at the Paris Air Show 2023 - from right to left: Iron Beam high energy laser, Stunner (David's Sling interceptor), I-Derby-ER (air and tactical missile defense) and Tamir interceptor used by the Iron Dome and C-Dome systems.

The 54th Paris Air Show international aerospace exhibition provides an important venue for Israel’s aerospace and defense companies featuring new weapons, aerospace systems, space programs, and unmanned systems. All photos credit: Defense Update

IAI – Upper-tier ballistic missile defense

Three missiles designed by IAI for air and missile defense – Arrow 3, Barak 8ER and Barak 8 LRAD. Both Arrow-3 and barak 8ER are designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles.

Exporting Light Rocket Propulsion Systems

Tomer – Israel’s government-owned defense company is participating at the Paris Airshow as part of the company’s marketing campaign seeking to expand its offerings to rocket and missile manufacturers worldwide. Tomer is Israel’s largest manufacturer of light rocket propulsion systems. The company’s products are integrated into IAI’s BARAK MX interceptors, Elbit Systems’ Extra and Accular guided rockets, and the Rampage air-launched guided missile. Photo: IAI

SkySonic – Interceptor of Hypersonic Threats

SkySonic is designed as an interceptor to counter hypersonic threats.

New Air/Air Missiles

Rafael is unveiling a new air/air missile – the SkySpear, at the Paris Airshow.

Elbit Systems – Long-Range Strike

Four types of heavy guided aerial strike weapons from Elbit Systems – from top to bottom: REST with an MPR1000 body, Rampage 300 mm aerial launched missile, Lizzard 4 with an MPR500  laser-guided bomb, and laser-guided 2.75″ rocket -GATR.

Teaming UAS and Loitering Weapons

Elbit Systems shows a teaming between the Skylark 3 Hybrid drone and Sky Striker loitering weapon. The drone performs extended reconnaissance and intelligence gathering missions, lasting up to 18 hours, with the Sky Striker performing target acquisition and attack based on that reconnaissance.
BlueBird UAS are also showing a teaming of UAS and loitering weapons. The team comprises the ThunderB VTOL UAS and new SpyX loitering weapons unveiled at the 2023 Paris Airshow.
SpyX can operate on missions lasting 1.5 hours at a range of 50 km from its controller. The weapon is supplied as an inert airframe, loaded with the battery and warhead upon assembly in the field. It is loaded with an anti-personnel high explosive fragmenting or anti-tank warhead. SpyX uses a piloting camera for flying and a miniature EO/IR payload for target acquisition, and a proximity fuse to trigger the HE-FRAG warhead.

Spear UAS – Encapsulated Loitering Weapon

Spear UAS’ Viper is designed as an encapsulated loitering weapon utilizing a quadrotor platform packed into a small launcher used as a ‘wooden round’.
Uvision shows a complete system of a Hero 120 loitering weapon, comprising the launcher and missile, control unit, and communications link. These weapons have already been integrated for operation from helicopters, boats, tactical vehicles, and unmanned ground vehicles.

Rafael’s Sky Sonic Interceptor Is Designed To Kill Hypersonic Threats

The SkySonic - Israel's new interceptor designed to kill hypersonic threats. Illustration: RAFAEL

RAFAEL announced today it had begun the development of a new interceptor designed specifically against hypersonic missiles. The company has been developing the new interceptor for the past three years and expects to have a prototype ready for flight testing soon. The program is funded by internal research and development investment. Still, RAFAEL is confident it can garner support for full-scale development from potential customers once the program reaches maturity level. The new interceptor, ‘ Sky Sonic,’ was introduced to media representatives today at a special presentation at RAFAEL HQ in Tel Aviv by the company’s new Chairman, Yuval Steinitz, and CEO, Yoav Har-Even. The new system will be officially unveiled at the 54th Paris Air Show, opening next week.

The Sky Sonic interceptor represents a major technological leap in hypersonic missile defense. Designed with exceptional maneuverability and high-speed capabilities, it effectively neutralizes hypersonic missiles with unmatched precision and stealth.

To act as an effective interceptor of a hypersonic target Lastly, the interceptor must exhibit exceptional maneuverability and operate on a non-ballistic trajectory to effectively pursue and neutralize the hypersonic threat. Illustration: RAFAEL

Hypersonic Challenges

Hypersonic missiles encompass new threats, including hypersonic atmospheric cruise missiles, gliders, and cruisers that travel at incredible speeds while maintaining exceptional accuracy and maneuverability. Unlike ballistic missiles, hypersonic missiles can change their course mid-flight. Consequently, a successful defense against hypersonic threats requires a multifaceted approach that involves countering their speed and effectively tracking, detecting, and intercepting their unpredictable flight paths.

Developing a comprehensive defensive response to hypersonic threats presents numerous complex challenges, including detection and tracking difficulties that necessitate a synchronized sensor system capable of accurately identifying and locating the threat throughout its trajectory. Furthermore, accurate trajectory prediction demands an interceptor that can swiftly reach the target, minimizing uncertainty associated with the target location. Lastly, the interceptor must exhibit exceptional maneuverability and operate on a non-ballistic trajectory to effectively pursue and neutralize the hypersonic threat.

The Sky Sonic second stage packs a boosted kill vehicle designed to intercept hypersonic and maneuvering targets effectively. Illustration: RAFAEL

The Sky Sonic Interceptor

The Sky Sonic interceptor is designed to integrate with existing early warning sensors and battle management suites. A two-stage missile system is designed for vertical launch and high acceleration to quickly reach the atmosphere’s edge, where hypersonic threats are expected to arrive. The first stage will bring the interceptor to the approximate height, whereas the second stage – the kill vehicle, will separate and boost further to the intercept. Both stages are fitted with fins. Company officials did not elaborate on the specific seekers or the number of sensor seekers packed into the kill vehicle. Still, the illustrations presented to the press show a distinct radome that seems to be of a different material than the kill vehicle’s body. The animation also shows blurred edges of the fins, possibly indicating the plasma created by the friction generated by the high speed of the kill vehicle. According to company officials, Sky Sonic uses advanced technologies to position the kill vehicle in a collision course with the incoming target, considering the target’s maneuvering and course changes, behavior that current interceptors cannot perform due to the inherent limitations of legacy systems. Rafael’s officials indicate that the DSWS has some capabilities to engage high-speed and maneuvering targets, but Sky Sonic will be optimized against such threats.

SkySonic Interceptor launched from a vertical launcher. Illustration: Rafael

Officials indicated that the kill vehicle is designed for a kinetic kill but will also be effective close to its target. Sky Sonic will be able to deal with hypersonic threats flying at Mach 10 and above, either hypersonic glide vehicles (the near-term threats) or hypersonic cruise missiles expected in the future. Rafael’s Sky Sonic introduction comes a week after Iran announced its first hypersonic missile – FATTAH, which Iran claims is a hypersonic reentry vehicle with a range of 1400 km.

RAFAEL intends to offer the Sky Sonic interceptors as part of a multi-layered air and missile defense system that rely on four layers – a close-in layer aimed at counter-drone systems (C-UAS), the Low Altitude Short-Range layer protected by Spyder SR, Iron Dome, Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar (C-RAM) systems, and the Iron Beam High Energy Laser System; the later will also be able to engage long range targets when they pass within the laser’s intercept range. Spyder MR protects the medium-altitude and medium-range layers. The high-altitude medium to long-range layer is protected by David’s Sling Weapon Systems (DSWS), the new Sky Sonic, designed to integrate with the DSWS and air-to-air missiles employed by combat air patrols that could also be used against incoming missiles, taking advantage of the height and forward positioning of such assets.

Affinity – Taking Flight Training Seriously

The 50,000 flight hours milestone celebrated by the Royal Air Force and the Affinity Group was an important achievement for the company. In only seven years, Affinity evolved from a ten-employee startup to a group of 180 professional personnel operating a fleet of 42 aircraft training aircraft in three bases, supporting the elementary, basic, and multi-engine pilots training for the RAF and Royal Navy. With this proven record, Affinity has established itself as a role model for other countries looking for a similar approach to military training.

In the following article, Kees Otten and Wim Das summarize their visit to the company, where they had a personal impression of its activity. The article was first published by the Dutch aviation magazine Piloot & Vliegtuig.

The article is republished here with permission of Dutch Defence Media. The article provides some guidelines for foreign air forces considering outsourcing similar activities to service providers.

  • Outsourcing: non-operational tasks to private companies, such as pilot training, can save costs and improve efficiency.
  • Partnership: Building a strong partnership between government and industry, as seen in the partnership between Affinity and the UK Ministry of Defence, can lead to successful outcomes. Adding an experienced local company to the team improves efficiency and success.
  • Aircraft: Choosing the right training aircraft addresses operational performance and life cycle cost efficiency and adaptability to the military training mission based on efficient aircraft use, updating systems, and availability of spare parts.
  • Focus: Focusing on customer requirements by providing excellent service, maintaining skilled manpower, technical capabilities, and advanced technology, and being flexible in responding to changing needs.
Iain Chalmers, a former Royal Air Force (RAF) qualified flight instructor, is now the managing director of Affinity. Photo: MOD, Crown Copyright

Outsourcing military tasks to private companies can best be called a trend. To gain insight into why non-operational tasks are increasingly being transferred to such parties, it is worth looking at how, in the United Kingdom, in cooperation with the British armed forces, Affinity Flying Training Services is part of the national military aircrew training system, the UK Military Flying Training System (UKMFTS). Affinity is a joint venture of US-based Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) and Israeli Elbit’s local subsidiary, Elbit Systems UK. A recent visit by Piloot & Vliegtuig shows excellent cooperation between all parties involved. Affinity can be considered a role model for other countries looking for a similar approach.

Contracted for 17 Years

The person who has put his heart and soul into supporting Affinity and making it grow into what it is today is Iain Chalmers, a former Royal Air Force (RAF) qualified flight instructor and now managing director of Affinity. Iain explains Affinity’s role within the overarching scheme during our visit. In 2008, the UK Ministry of Defence (UK MoD) selected the Ascent consortium to work in partnership to structure a new format for pilot training. Ascent is a partnership of Lockheed Martin UK and Babcock International and is the project’s prime contractor, thus designing the new pilot training system in collaboration with the UK MoD. It is responsible for maintaining an adequate overview and is, for example, also active in providing simulator training. Together with the RAF, it also provides the necessary instructors. The mandate within the UKMFTS for Ascent involves training pilots for the Air Force, Navy, and Army, the RAF, Fleet Air Arm (FAA), and Army Air Corps (AAC), respectively.

In its turn, Ascent submitted the order to provide the fixed-wing training aircraft to Affinity in 2016. Elementary, basic, and multi-engine training aircraft procurement was thus contracted as a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) for 17 years (until mid-2033). The exceptions are advanced jet, rotary-wing, and Navy rear-crew training, which other providers deliver. It is remarkable that Affinity, operating from the RAF airbases Cranwell, Barkston Heath, and Valley, and embedded in the military flight operations at the same time, is, therefore, part of it and, on the other hand, sees the RAF, No.22 Training Group as its user and customer. So this is where the business model comes in, where service is considered the most important thing. Iain frequently consults with his next-higher level, Ascent, essentially his direct customer.

Affinity operates 42 aircraft, including Grob 120T, Embraer Phenom 100, and Textron T-6C Texan II. Photo: MOD, Crown Copyright

The Value of Operational Experience

Affinity started small with six people, and during the first two years, there was a lot to arrange and set up. This included purchasing aircraft, recruiting ground personnel, and obtaining approval for the systems and maintenance procedures. This process was eased because Elbit Systems has built extensive experience in recent years in supplying military training aircraft and fleets, supporting their operational use, with accompanying maintenance and logistics procedures provided as a complete module. Elbit previously did so in Israel, among other countries, and is now establishing a similar framework in Greece. Shai Louk, the business development director of flight academies & services of Elbit Systems, tells us that Elbit “operates almost 180 training aircraft worldwide” and that it is precisely because of this experience that so much knowledge and insight have been gained on how to organize such training schemes.

Iain agrees that partly because of this, the consortium was able to present to the British Ministry of Defence and Ascent a particularly good offer to support the need for a new training concept in practice. This need mainly concerned the switch to training that would be much more in line with the digital capabilities available today in aircraft with which the front-line squadrons are equipped. It is important to build and shape digital awareness to a sufficient performance level of the pilot in training to be able to fly the modern 5th generation aircraft and understand and control their capabilities.

Affinity operates 23 Grob G 120TP, used for the elementary phase. They are known within the RAF as Prefect T.1. Photo: MOD, Crown Copyright

Training Aircraft Chosen With Care

Elbit Systems’ experience led to carefully choosing the most suitable aircraft. The commercial availability of the aircraft and its supply chain was of paramount importance. Also, selecting an aircraft requiring minimum changes and upgrades prepares it for the military training mission favored.

The choice for ‘elementary flying training’ (EFT) fell on the Grob G 120TP, known within the RAF as Prefect T.1 – 23 such aircraft were acquired by the operator and became operational beginning in 2017. A student receives practical flying hours on these trainers and significant time using Ground Based Training Equipment. Those who look into the cockpit of a Prefect T.1 understand how the transition to digital awareness is taught. Even at this elementary phase, there is an elaborate “glass cockpit” that, a decade ago, one would only find in a fighter aircraft. The Prefects supplied by Affinity operate from Cranwell and Barkston Heath and serve RAF and Fleet Air Arm pilots in training.

After successfully completing elementary flying training, there are two directions to proceed. If destined to become a fighter pilot, basic flying training (BFT) on the Textron T-6C Texan II comes next. Affinity has ten of these at Valley, and they became operational starting in 2019. Four additional aircraft were recently added and are now operational. After that, training can be continued on the Royal Air Force BAE Systems Hawk T.2, also based at Valley, for advanced jet training to be ready for the transition to the Typhoon or F-35. For the multi-engine stream, students stay at Cranwell to receive further training in one of Affinity’s five Embraer Phenom 100s in the form of Multi-engine pilot training (MEPT).

The T-6C Texan II replaced the Embraer Tucano in the basic trainer role. Photo: MOD, Crown Copyright
The Phenom 100 run the Multi Engine Advanced Flying Training (MEAFT) course for pilots. Photo: MOD, Crown Copyright

The Importance of Good Management

Being able to meet customer requirements created challenges during the COVID period. For example, the delivery of parts took longer, so Affinity management has now chosen to have more parts available in stock. Nevertheless, overall performance did not suffer from this. “After a week, we were operating as before but with new procedures,” Iain said. He attributed this to a strong financial base, quick decision-making, and “out of the box” thinking. And this marks Affinity’s inventiveness in delivering a great turnkey product.

The Prefect and Phenom maintenance and operations occur in and from the large hangars Affinity occupies at Cranwell and Barkston Heath. Personnel for these operations are sourced locally as technicians, certified engineers, marshallers, and people who refuel the aircraft. All this is done while aiming for a pleasant and safe working environment. ‘It is like running the house with all the details’ as Iain describes it.

The Prefect and Phenom maintenance and operations occur in and from the large hangars Affinity occupies at Cranwell and Barkston Heath. Personnel for these operations are sourced locally as technicians, certified engineers, marshallers, and people who refuel the aircraft. Photo: MOD, Crown Copyright

Value for Money

Affinity’s managing director and his staff have supported a real transformation in pilot training. Now with Affinity and through well-chosen systems and efficient organization, Iain can generate an adequate number of deployable training aircraft with significantly fewer people than was previously the case when the military did everything in-house. Iain: “Unlike military colleagues, we are not paid to perform operational side tasks. We only do one thing: provide flying aircraft, and do it well. The customer can then focus on training. This alone makes us a lot more efficient”. He continues: “Requirements change, however. Our efficiency also helps to create a bit of flexibility to respond to changing circumstances.”

Shai adds, “We draw up the bill at the end of the day. How much manpower was needed, and how much availability did we deliver? This is where we learn all the time.” The drive to get a little better every day is embedded in Affinity’s performance. They will soon start using tablets to do various checks to reduce further ‘turn around time.’ In this way, maintenance is becoming increasingly smart. Characteristic of the desire to involve the local industry, Affinity also invested in partners who, for example, developed software to determine the consumption of parts better and have the necessary replenishment arrive in time.

Outsourcing a Comprehensive and Flexible Service

Affinity offers flexibility when adapting to changes, whether foreseen or unforeseen. Iain calls it delivering reliability. The planes are deployed according to the customer’s requirements and schedule. Already it is clear that more pilots are being delivered. Flying with digital instruments is different, sometimes, it seems too easy. In any case, the requirement to train more pilots for the front-line squadrons is being met. The Prefect, Phenom, and Texan II do exactly what they are supposed to do. Affinity has firmly established itself at various bases and now employs 200 professionals. The coming years can therefore be viewed with confidence. The set-up of such a training scheme in which a private company organizes and executes the entire process of generating available training aircraft, including all ins and outs, could be a godsend for air forces that must make similar decisions as the RAF. Given its experience, Elbit Systems has some strong cards up its sleeve.

IAI Introduces: BLUE WHALE Large AUV

The Blue Whale ASW in UDT Exhibition. Michael Ozegowski, Chief Executive Officer of ATLAS ELEKTRONIK, Eyal Shapira, VP& GM Air Defense & Naval Systems Division, ELTA IAI (Credit: ATLAS ELEKTRONIK)
The blue Whale AUV navigates at the water level. In this position, only the sail is visible. Once submerged, the submarine is below water, and when reaching its mission area, it can deploy its sensors by elevating the telescopic mast. Photo: IAI
The 5.5ton Blue Whale AUV is loaded onboard a support ship after deployment. The mini-submarine is 10.9 meters long and 1120mm in diameter. Photo: IAI

Updated – 10 May 2023: Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has developed a large Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) called “BLUE WHALE,” designed for covert intelligence gathering in the open sea and coastal waters. The system incorporates Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) sonars developed in partnership with Atlas Elektronik and was unveiled at the Undersea Defence Technology (UDT) event held this week at Rostock, Germany.

The system incorporates ATLAS ELEKTRONIK’s unique, towed passive sonar triplet array. In contrast to existing towed sonars, the combined system is designed to function at depths traditionally exploited by submarines to avoid detection. A transmitter developed by ATLAS ELEKTRONIK, deployed from an autonomous or crewed surface vessel, enables the bistatic location and tracking of submarine targets by BlueWhale ASW. The towed sonar array is based on Atlas’ proven ACTAS (Active Towed Array Sonar) platform, a deep-water sonar system originally designed for surface vessel deployment. The system utilizes a low frequency sonar system that facilitates excellent area coverage while maintaining high sensitivity at depths previously beyond the reach of conventional sonar systems.

This AUV has undergone thousands of autonomous operation hours, including acoustic intelligence, identifying the presence of naval mines, and intelligence gathering for maritime and coastal targets.

The AUV measures 10.9 meters long and 1.12 m’ in diameter. It weighs 5.5 tons and can perform missions up to 30 days long. It can move at an optimal speed of 2-3 knots, with a maximum speed of 7 knots when required. BLUE WHALE has an integrated sensor payload mounted on an articulated telescopic mast that extends several meters high when fully opened, enabling the submarine to remain submerged throughout its mission, spanning two to four weeks. The AUV can descend to the bottom of the sea, where it can lurk and hide while using some of its sensors to collect intelligence for days. When submerged, the mast is stored in a container protecting the sensors and equipment. An intelligent, on-board controller manages the mission and sensors, sensors, communications, and power resources, enabling the operators to focus on the mission.

The sensors are mounted on the sail and telescopic mast. The mast mounts a small radar, designed for low-probability of intercept (LPI), and electro-optical payload providing visual intelligence (VISINT) just as a submarine does. An electronic support measures (ESM) sensor array is tasked with COMING and ELINT.

A broadband satellite communications antenna is also mounted on the mast, transferring the gathered data in real-time to command posts worldwide, either at sea or on land. To detect submarines and mines and gather acoustic intelligence, the AUV uses two types of sonars – a bi-static towed array for acoustic surveillance and submarine detection and flank sonar arrays for mine detection and seafloor mapping. The autonomous submarine can perform a significant portion of the operations of manned submarines, at minimal cost and maintenance, without the need for personnel on board. The AUV can be shipped in a standard 40-foot shipping container and deployed from a port or a support ship at sea. In addition, the Blue Whale can be used as a forward scout for manned submarines, special forces, and naval commandoes.

A selfie was taken by the Blue Whale’s EO camera. Photo: IAI
IAI unveiled a surprising amount of details about its new AUV, its sensors, and its internal design. Subscribe to see more commentary.


A cutaway view of the ELI-3325 Blue Whale AUV.
A close-up of the sail structure.
The sail-mounted sensors can be deployed when the AUV is floating below the water line, while the sensors mounted on the telescopic mast can be deployed when the submarine maintains a deeper position.
A close-up view of the mast-mounted sensor payload popping up above the water line. It mounts an LPI radar, optronic sensors, and a broadband satellite communications terminal.
Two flank sonars are used to deliver an acoustic mapping of the AUV surroundings.
The BlueWhale AUV can deploy a bistatic towed array sonar for acoustic surveillance and submarine detection.


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