Israel has produced a highly formidable air defense missile system and a lethal high-tech loitering munition, both of which are battle-tested and available for export.
In March, Israel tested the new Extended Range version of its Barak 8 air defense missile system.
Developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the Barak 8 is designed for shooting down aircraft, drones, helicopters, cruise missiles, and even ballistic missiles.
The earlier Barak interceptor missiles have respective ranges of 35 to 70 kilometers (approximately 20 and 40 miles). The new Barak ER has a much greater range of 150 kilometers (approximately 90 miles).
In the March live-fire trial, a Barak ER missile successfully intercepted a ballistic target at an altitude of 10 km (roughly six miles). IAI noted that this is “a typical range” of such targets.
Furthermore, the company added, “The intercepted target was specifically developed for the trial series based on IAI’s system and it represents a true threat.”
It also said the successful test served as “further proof” of the system’s “advanced capabilities to handle a variety of threats and missions at different ranges.”
The system is presently available for export and is already in service with India’s air force and navy. IAI has sold approximately $7 billion worth of Barak 8 missiles to foreign countries but has not, as is customary with Israeli arms sales, publicly disclosed who its clients are.
The Barak 8 is believed to have made its combat debut in Azerbaijani service when it reportedly shot down a Russian-built Armenian Iskander ballistic missile during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
About a dozen land and sea-based Barak 8 interceptors could enable a country to adequately protect installations and areas of civil, economic, or military importance at land and sea from a variety of aerial threats.
Israel itself is outfitting its new Sa’ar 6 corvettes with the naval version of the missile, that will greatly enhance its navy’s capability to defend its territorial waters, which may prove increasingly necessary for, among other things, protecting offshore gas rigs from any potential Hezbollah missile strikes in the event of another dangerous war.
While IAI designed the Barak 8 for defense against various aerial threats, it also designed a formidable weapon system for offensive missions.
The IAI Harop loitering munition (or “suicide” drone) was primarily designed for Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD/DEAD) missions. It can, however, also be used against an array of other ground targets.
It’s launched into the air from a canister, which can be on a truck or even fitted on a warship. The Harop has folding wings. Its relatively small size and low radar cross-section — its radar signature is reportedly the size of a small bird — enable the loitering munition to evade many types of surface-to-air missile systems, especially basic ones designed primarily for tracking and targeting much larger and faster aircraft or cruise missiles.
The Harop can autonomously destroy enemy air defense systems using its anti-radar homing system. Its operator can also use the drone’s powerful cameras to locate and destroy other types of targets. The Harop can even strike moving targets.
After locating and locking on to a target, the loitering munition initiates its speedy attack run, often descending almost vertically, and self-destructs on impact. Azerbaijan used them to successfully knock out at least six of Armenia’s formidable high-altitude Russian-built S-300 air defense missile systems during last year’s conflict.
If the Harop fails to find any target, it can safely return to base for use in another mission.
As with the Barak 8, IAI also developed a naval version of the Harop, which it unveiled in 2017. In February 2021, the company announced that it had sold naval Harops along with traditional ground-based versions to an undisclosed country in Asia.
According to an IAI press release, the naval Harop “gives mission commanders in a fleet of ships the capability to independently and organically collect intelligence, assess targets and strike.”
“The intelligence gathered by the Harop is directly integrated in the vessel’s control room and allows for quick, accurate and lethal decision-making,” the press release added. “Use of the Harop on naval platforms is an operational alternative and complementary element to using sea-sea missiles, with a wide range of uses and with optimal cost-efficiency for the navy.”
Military analyst Joseph Trevithick noted that while the Harop’s payload isn’t enough to singlehandedly sink enemy warships, swarms of these loitering munitions “attacking from different vectors could do considerable damage and blind them by knocking out their radars or other sensors.”
“This could result in a mission kill and make the target vessel vulnerable to other types of attacks or take it offline for a prolonged period of time,” he added.
Such a scenario is possibly what IAI envisioned when it mentioned the naval Harop’s usefulness as a “complementary element” to ship-to-ship missiles.
When deployed by the same military, these systems’ respective specialized defensive and offensive capabilities can adequately protect a country’s armed forces and territory from various aerial threats while simultaneously enabling it to strike strategically-important targets deep inside enemy territory.
Such capabilities, which many countries can now acquire, could, and in some respects already have, change the way many wars, both big and small, are fought and ultimately won in the not-too-distant future.