Rafael Reveals New Air-to-Air Missile, Seeks Foreign Partner

Rafael sky spear rendering
Credit: Rafael

LE BOURGET—Israel’s state-owned arms-maker Rafael revealed a new long-range, air-to-air missile at the Paris Air Show and launched the public phase of a campaign to find a foreign partner to help pay for a five-year development program.

A model of the Sky Spear missile on display at Rafael’s exhibit stand proposes major changes in design and performance compared to the 60-year legacy of Israeli’s standard air-to-air missile family, which includes Rafael’s infrared-guided Python series and radar-homing Derby series.

The Sky Spear has been designed to exceed the range of the I-Derby Extended Range (ER), said Yaniv Rotem, director of business development and marketing for Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

The additional range is provided by a combination of extra kinematic power and aerodynamic lift, Rotem said. A three-pulse motor powers the missile instead of the dual-pulse propulsion system in the I-Derby ER. Although the Sky Spear is 20 mm wider than the Derby series, with a 180-mm dia., Rafael reduced the area of the new missile’s three sets of control surfaces to reduce drag.

Another key change is an advanced radio frequency (RF) seeker that can acquire targets at significantly longer ranges than the I-Derby ER.

“I tell people we actually squeezed an F-16 radar into a seeker,” Rotem said. “Its abilities are just tremendous.”

Asked to comment on whether the seeker is multi-band, Rotem replied: “I cannot get into that.”

The RF seeker includes advanced electronic counter-countermeasure features, Rotem added, which enables the missiles to avoid being defeated by an enemy’s airborne and ground-based jamming systems.

“The only thing we can say is ... we proved the capability of this design against a lot of kinds of jammers—different types—working simultaneously,” Rotem said.

The Sky Spear concept emerges as global militaries seek to dramatically extend the range of air-to-air missiles—a trend the MBDA Meteor established more than a decade ago. China followed suit by unveiling the PL-15 beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile in the last decade. The U.S. responded in 2017 by awarding a contract to Lockheed Martin to deliver the AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile.

The Israeli Air Force wants to adopt the Sky Spear, Rotem said, but Rafael is searching for international partners to secure the funding to complete certification. Israel prefers to reach a government-to-government agreement rather than directly with an industry partner, he added.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.