Rafael, a prominent Israeli defense company, is set to unveil its latest innovation in the air defense industry called the “SkySonic”. This cutting-edge system is specifically designed to counter the growing threat of hypersonic missiles, which has gained significant attention following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and their alleged use of such weapons. While Russia claims to possess high-speed projectiles, it has been observed that they mainly employ the Kinzhal rocket, a ballistic weapon launched from an aircraft. Similarly, Iran has also claimed to possess hypersonic missiles, but in reality, their weapons are more akin to upgraded ballistic missiles with improved manoeuvrability.
A hypersonic missile is a formidable weapon capable of achieving a speed of approximately Mach 10, or 11,000 km/h, which is ten times the speed of sound. In comparison, medium-range ballistic missiles typically reach speeds of Mach 5 or higher. Moreover, hypersonic missiles possess the ability to maneuver at these high velocities, further complicating interception efforts.
Anticipating the emerging hypersonic threat, Rafael has been working diligently on the SkySonic system for the past three years, even before the Ukraine crisis unfolded. Consequently, the system has reached an advanced stage of development and is expected to undergo flight tests in the near future. The Israeli Ministry of Defense has already granted approval for the system, leading to great enthusiasm within the American security system, which has integrated it into its defense infrastructure.
Rafael, renowned for its successful Iron Dome system, which has been operational for over a decade, is also responsible for developing the “Iron Beam” laser system. This laser-based technology is expected to become operational soon and promises substantial cost savings for the Israeli security system by reducing the need for launching interceptors from the Iron Dome.
In general, ballistic missiles can be intercepted since they follow a predictable trajectory after their acceleration phase. On the other hand, intercepting a cruise missile, which can maneuver like an airplane, proves more challenging due to its slower speed. Nevertheless, defense systems capable of intercepting cruise missiles have already been developed.
In essence, hypersonic missiles combine the speed advantages of ballistic missiles with the maneuverability of cruise missiles, presenting a unique challenge for defense systems worldwide. Currently, there is no proven dedicated system specifically designed to intercept hypersonic rockets. This places Rafael at the forefront of the global air defense industry once again, with their SkySonic system offering a promising solution to counter this emerging threat.
The two-stage interceptor developed by Rafael possesses the capability to damage or destroy incoming hypersonic missiles effectively. Its notable advantage lies in its ability to intercept missiles precisely at the expected interception point. Furthermore, the interceptor demonstrates high maneuverability, enabling it to effectively counter the elusive behavior of hypersonic missiles.
Dr. Yuval Steinitz, Chairman of Rafael, asserts, “The SkySonic system is versatile and capable of intercepting all types of hypersonic missiles.” He expresses confidence in Rafael’s pioneering expertise in the field, highlighting the potential for the company to be among the first, if not the best, in the world in countering hypersonic missile threats. Dr. Steinitz also notes the remarkable growth of the company, with orders reaching a record 40 billion shekels, attributed partly to the increased opportunities arising from the conflict in Ukraine.
Main article photo: SkySonic, Rafael