Rafael Says Sky Sonic Interceptor To Enter Full-Scale Development

Credit: Aviation Week Network

LE BOURGET—Israel’s Rafael is claiming it will take an international lead in the development of an interceptor to tackle emerging hypersonic threats.

At a Paris Air Show dominated by discussion of European air defense capability, the company says that its two-stage Sky Sonic interceptor is being developed under internal research and development funding.

“This missile is one generation beyond David’s Sling,” Pini Yungman, head of the Air Defense Division at Rafael, told journalists here on the show’s first day. “It will take a few years to be ready with a system, but we are hoping that within the next few months we will move to full-scale development under a contract.”

Sky Sonic’s large booster is used to get the second stage kill vehicle close to the target. The kill vehicle will then maneuver and close in on the target such as glide vehicles or cruise missiles.

“The challenge is not the speed, but the challenge is the maneuverability of the threat, and the second is the trajectory and altitude that the threat is flying,” Yungman added.

Credit: Rafael

Rafael is not developing the radar that will be needed to track and update the interceptor with the target vehicle’s trajectory. But Yungman says the company will work with “friends and allies” on adapting existing radars to the task that will be augmented by electro-optical sensors.

“We know how to adjust the sensors and to define the requirements in a way that it will fit to the next generation threat as well,” Yungman said.

Rafael believes Sky Sonic will be a component of a layered air and missile defense system, rather than a stand-alone system. 

The unveiling comes a week after Iran, Israel’s most significant regional threat, unveiled an offensive “hypersonic” surface-to-surface missile.

Yungman said Sky Sonic would be more than capable of dealing with the Iranian weapon as well as future threats from that country.

Sky Sonic joins other counter-hypersonic systems in development. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is developing the Glide Phase Interceptor. The European Union is funding two hypersonic interceptor efforts—one led by MBDA and another led by Spain’s Sistemas de Misiles de España programs—while several countries have joined the multinational Twister initiative. MDA has also upgraded the Raytheon SM-6 to intercept hypersonic glide vehicles in the terminal phase, although the capability is unproven. The Patriot air and missile defense system has proven capable in Ukraine of shooting down Russia’s Khinzal, an aero-ballistic hypersonic missile that can maneuver in the terminal phase.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.