TEL AVIV — The Israeli Navy's "ultimate answer" to the Russian Yakhont anti-ship sea-skimming cruise missile has been validated in India for land-based air defenders, according to India's Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the prime contractor for the joint program known here as Barak-8.
The June 30 test of the Indian Air Force MRSAM – a medium-range, land-based version of the longer-ranged Barak-8 system produced for the Indian and Israeli navies – "validated all components of the weapon system to the satisfaction of the customer," according to IAI.
According to a July 7 statement, Israeli and Indian program officials witnessed three flight tests, each one simulating "different extreme reference scenarios validating various system capabilities." Launched from land-based mobile launchers, each of the three tests successfully destroyed targets simulating enemy threats.
Boaz Levy, IAI executive vice president and general manager of the company's Systems Missiles and Space Group, said Barak-8 had been validated in operational tests in Israel and abroad over the past year. It provides the "ultimate answer" to the Russian Yakhont, which Levy said posed "a significant threat in the Middle East in general and to the Israel Navy in particular."
The vertically launched intercepting system, with a range of some 70 kilometers, provides persistent 360-degree coverage against saturation attacks by long-range missiles and a spectrum of air-breathing threats, including the Russian sea-skimming cruise missile known by its NATO designation SS-N-26.
"Barak-8 is one of the most advanced air defense systems in the world in its sea-based and land-based versions. ... It is Israel's answer to the latest threat to come from the north," Levy said, referring to the long-range missiles sold to Syria and assumed to be in the hands of Lebanon-based Hezbollah.
According to Levy, the Barak-8 radar as well as the interceptor's seeker, airframe, propulsion and warhead were designed especially for sophisticated threats like the supersonic, sea-skimming Yakhont.
"It allows robust defense against aircraft, helicopters and missiles of all types, but for Yakhont, there's nothing else in Israel that has the energy and the maneuverability to intercept the target in the air at very low levels, a few meters above the sea."
In a recent interview, Brig. Gen. Yossi Ashkenazi, head of materiel for the Israeli Navy, supported Levy's claim, insisting that Barak-8 "will give an appropriate answer to all cruise missile threats, including the sea-skimming class of the Yakhont."
The service already operates Barak-8 and its EL/M-2248 Adir radar on one of its three Sa'ar-5 Corvettes, the INS Lahav. Ashkenazi said plans call for outfitting all four of its new Sa'ar-6 Corvettes now on order at Germany's ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems shipyard with the Barak-8 system.
Eventually the service also plans to equip its remaining two Sa'ar-5s with the Barak-8 system.
"We want a full envelop of protection on the ship and for different structures in our exclusive economic zone. So we will have launchers installed inside, both of which will use the Adir radar. It's efficient; we've done tests and it builds our confidence in our ability to integrate the two systems using the same radar," Ashkenazi said.
Ashkenazi and Levy said the radar supporting Barak-8 would allow full interoperability among Israeli surface ships and other branches of the Israel Defense Forces.
"Each ship will know how to defend itself, but the Barak-8 system can also operate as a mother ship, defending other ships," Levy said.
According to the IAI executive, the Barak-8 system was designed to operate in stand-alone mode or via a centralized network.
"By way of the network, we get a consolidated air picture that sees what all the ships combined see. The network allows sharing of information between ships and other assets. It can determine who is the optimal shooter. So if one ship actually detects a firing of Yakhont from the direction of Syria or Lebanon — something that can threaten our entire coastline — another ship can be assigned to fire the interceptor," Levy said.
"I believe that within the next year, this number will be growing dramatically. We have the Israeli Navy, the Indian Navy, the Indian Air Force, and we're marketing it worldwide for sea-based and land-based versions in all kinds of configurations. It's a real network-centric system that represents a big leap in the global air-defense domain," Weiss said.
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.