The Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd revealed to the press recently that they will provide the Spike ER missiles for the Philippine Navy (PN) and the Spike NLOS missiles for our Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Helicopters. The Spike ER will likely be used on our Multi-Purpose Attack Craft (MPAC) Mark Three (Mk3) while the Spike NLOS will be used on our AW159 Wildcat Helicopters.
Both Spike missile versions were bought as part of the packages for the MPAC and AW159, with the MPAC project awarded in February 2016 while the AW159 acquisition was awarded in March 2016. These acquisitions are significant because for the Spike ER, it will be the very first missile system ever to officially enter service with our PN ships. The Spike NLOS on the other hand will be the first ever guided missile to enter service for use with the PN’s helicopters.
’The Spike Missiles’
The history of the Spike missile is a little bit hazy and confusing, but from what I can piece together, it started out as the Tamuz missile which entered service with the Israeli armed forces at least as early as the early 1980s. In the late 1990s, the manufacturer Rafael started selling these abroad and renamed the export version as the “Spike”. Several variants of these missiles were produced, with the newest and longest version, the NLOS, being unveiled only in 2009.
The Spike family of missiles as of now consists of at least five different type of models, and since the time they were exported they have become one of the most commercially successful Anti-Tank (AT) missiles in the world with over two dozen countries buying and putting them into service in their armed forces.
The ER and NLOS are the longest ranged versions of the Spike family as of now, with the “ER” standing for “Extended Range” while the “NLOS” meaning “Non-Line of Sight”. The ER is the smaller of the two missiles, weighing 33 kg and having a range of 8 km. The NLOS on the other hand is more than twice weight of the ER at 71 kg, and has almost four times the range of 30 km.
’Unique Guidance System’
What makes these Spike missiles unique among small AT missiles (and probably one of the main reasons for their success) are their guidance systems which uses two Electro-Optical (EO) sensors, a Charge Coupled Device (CCD) and an Imaging Infra-Red (IIR) sensor. In simplest terms these are video cameras that allow the missile to operate in Day, Night and even Adverse Weather conditions.
In the case of the bigger Spike missiles like the ER and NLOS, the images taken from the sensors are sent back to the Operator which can then see what the missile sees and have full control of the missile. In the case of the ER, this is accomplished by using a Fiber-Optic wire that unspools from the back of the missile as it flies. In the case of the NLOS, it uses a wireless radio-frequency datalink since it has to operate at a much longer range.
In a way, these missiles are somewhat similar to “Suicide Drones”, giving the Operator the flexibility to do things like conduct short term Surveillance, change targets, abort the missile before it hits the target to prevent Friendly Fire or Collateral Damage, etc. and even have a video record of the operation of the missile as it hits the target.
Bear in mind that these missiles were made as per the requirement of the Israeli armed forces, who thought that these characteristics are important for their operations. And since these missiles has been in combat service for so long, more than three decades now, then the Israelis had a lot of time to improve and perfect them.
The only disadvantage with this type of guidance system is that the Operator can only engage one target at a time, and in the case of the ER, the Operator has to stay in position while guiding the missile. However, both missiles does have a Fire and Forget option also where the Operator can disengage if necessary after firing or designating the target.
The Spikes are AT missiles, but the PN intends to use them for the Anti-Ship role, and it should do well also in that role because aside from the High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) warheads, there is also an option to use a Penetration, Blast Fragmentation (PBF) warhead on the Spike which is more suitable against less-armored targets like ships.
The weights of the warheads of the ER and NLOS missiles has never been published, but I previously conservatively estimated them to be at least 6 kg, which gives them the equivalent Explosive and Kinetic Energy of six rounds of 76 mm caliber ammunition fired from an Oto Melara 76 mm Compact cannon, or the equivalent of around three-fourths the energy of a 155 mm caliber ammunition fired from an M114 Howitzer, which seems good enough against ships.
The Finnish Coastal Defense forces are using these missiles for the same anti-ship role, and I think the best way to use the Spike ER on our MPACs will also be mainly for Littoral or Coastal defense. The MPACs on their own are small and sit low in the water, making them harder to detect by radar. They are also fast and maneuverable, making them harder targets to hit.
Now if they operate on coastal areas, that will optimize their capabilities because land clutter and background heat source on their backs will degrade enemy Radar and Infra-Red (IR) sensors. One estimate says that the radar detection of a ship or boat near a beach will be degraded by at least 50%. Hence MPACs will be more survivable and effective in terms of making hit and run tactics against enemy ships if they operate from near the shore.
As for the NLOS, its decent range will enable our helicopters to have good standoff capability against enemy ships whose Surface to Air Missile (SAM) range are below 30 km, like that of the Chinese Type 056 Corvette, for example, whose HQ-10 SAMs only has a range of 9 km.
Or, if we end up being allies with China, then against the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), whose RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) has a similar range as a HQ-10, LOL. Just kidding. Of course, the “standoff capability” only allows our helicopters to be able to fire their NLOS missiles without necessarily being shot down.
Whether those missiles actually hit against the ship’s anti-missile defenses is another matter. It all depends on which is better, the missile, or the defenses, and will probably need no less than actual combat to really determine which is which.
Our Navy will finally enter the missile age once the ER and NLOS arrives, and frankly it is long overdue, thanks to the lack of support from the previous Administrations before PNoy. If you look at the Navies around the world right now, not many don’t have missile capability, and we are not just any small country, we are one of the biggest countries in South East Asia (SEA) in terms of the sizes of the economy and population.
I initially had a bit of reservation about these missiles, I felt bigger and longer ranged ones would’ve been better, but in the end I think our Navy made a good choice as these Spike missiles are already combat proven and in use with a lot of other countries. They are some of the best, if not the best in their class, and will serve very well as the first missiles, or the “Beginner’s missiles” for our Navy, LOL.
The MPACs are set to be delivered in 2017 while the Wildcats a year later in 2018, so congratulations to the Philippine Navy for their impending entry into the missile age.
^ Rafael aims to expand Philippine presence,
^ ADAS 2016: Propmech to deliver first MPAC Mk 3 to the Philippine Navy in mid-2017,
^ Philippine navy orders two AW159 Wildcats,
^ Analysis: IDF breaks 33-year silence on M48 Tamuz missile launcher,
^ Rafael unveils new long-range Spike missile,
^ Rafael sharpens Spike missile offering,
^ Uparming the MPACs for the Anti-Ship Role,
^ Can other vessels see you on radar?,
^ Independence class Littoral combat ship,