The Spyder SAM System for the Philippines?

Front view of a Spyder SR Missile Firing Unit (MFU). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In January 2019, the Department of National Defense (DND) confirmed plans to acquire the Spyder Surface to Air Missile (SAM) System for the Philippines.1 Reports of the Philippine government being interested in an Israeli SAM Air Defense System (ADS) goes at least as far back as six years ago in 2013 under the Administration of President Benigno Aquino Jr.2

A Thesis by a United States (US) armed forces personnel back in 2017 later mentioned that the Philippine Navy (PN) was reportedly interested in getting at least five Missile Batteries of the Spyder.3 But over the years nothing concrete has come out of it so far, hopefully things will be different this time around.

I did consider writing about the Spyder before, but it just got sidetracked as better topics were available until it sort of faded away a bit until recently when the government started talking about it again.

’The Spyder’
The Spyder ADS is made by the Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd and was first introduced around 2004.4 It first went into operation only fairly recently in 2011. Three countries are officially known to have bought and operated the system, namely India, Vietnam and Singapore.5 6

Many sources7 though including the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) cite Georgia as another customer for the Spyder and that they had even used it in their conflict with the Russians in 2008. But not a lot of official details have been released about that acquisition, like how many were acquired, how it performed and what happened to it during and after the short war.

The Spyder is designed to shoot down most airborne threats such as Fixed Wing Aircraft, Helicopters, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), Cruise Missiles and Glide Bombs. Its systems are broken down into several modules which can be separated from each other by up to several kilometers.

This allows better survivability because if one or even several of the missile launchers are hit for example, then the system can still function as long as the command center and radar sensor are still operational.

Each module is also fully mobile, allowing them to change positions as often as the operator wants it. This makes determining the exact position of each module a lot more difficult and thus more difficult to neutralize.

’Vehicle Types’8
The modules are usually mounted on wheeled vehicles, although options to mount them on tracked vehicles instead are also reportedly available. There are five major parts of the system, the first of which is the Missile Firing Unit (MFU) which carries and launches the missiles.

Depending on the model, each MFU can carry either four or eight missiles, and a maximum of up to six MFUs can be assigned to each system. This means a total of up to 24 to 48 missiles are available for each missile battery.

Then there is the Command and Control Unit (CCU) which serves as the “brains” of the system, collecting all information from the sensors and relaying commands to the MFU. Each CCU can handle a maximum of six MFUs, and can control them as far away as 5 km.

The Radar Sensor Unit (RSU) acts as the “eyes” of the system as it is the one used to detect incoming airborne threats. The RSU on the shorter ranged version of the Spyder is incorporated into the CCU, only the medium ranged version uses a standalone RSU.

Last would be the Missile Supply Vehicle (MSV) which carries extra missiles for the launchers, and a Field Supply Vehicle (FSV) which carries additional Support Equipment for the system.

There are two main versions of the Spyder, the shorter ranged Spyder-SR and the medium ranged Spyder-MR. The missiles of the SR has a maximum range of 20 km, and can reach a maximum altitude of 9 km. Its MFUs can carry four missiles each for a maximum of 24 missiles at the ready for six MFUs.

The SR uses the ELM-2106 Advanced Tactical Acquisition Radar (ATAR) which can track over 100 targets and has a maximum range of 180 km.9 As mentioned earlier, the RSU of the Spyder-SR is already integrated into the CCU, so it has one less vehicle type than the Spyder-MR.

The SR fires its missiles at a Slant Angle, and has options for its missiles to Lock On Before Launch (LOBL) or Lock On After Launch (LOAL). As their terms imply, LOBL means the missile needs to be locked on to a target before launch while LOAL means the missiles can be launched without locking on to a target, it will only be done afterwards.

The Spyder-MR on the other hand is the longer ranged version of the system whose missiles have more than double the range at 50 km and almost double the maximum altitude of 16 km than the SR thanks to the use of rocket boosters which give its missiles an extra “push”.

It can carry double the missile load of the SR with eight missiles per MFU for a maximum of 48 missiles for six MFUs. It fires its missiles vertically only or what’s known as “Vertical Launch” and only has the option for LOAL.

The MR uses a more powerful and more capable ELM-2084 Multi-Mission Radar (MMR) which has more than twice the maximum range at 474 km and ten times the number of targets that can be tracked at 1,10010 than the ELM-2106 radar of the SR.

Additionally, the ELM-2084 also uses an Active Electronically Steered Array (AESA) antenna which has a number of advantages over the conventional Mechanically Steered Array (MSA) antennas of radars like the ELM-2106 used on the SR.11 For one, it is more reliable since it has less moving parts and thus require less maintenance.

It also uses multiple radar modes at the same time instead of switching between them, meaning it can track air, sea or ground targets at the same time. It is more resistant to jamming since it uses a wider band of frequencies.

Most importantly, the signals of an AESA radar have what’s called as a Low Probability of Interception (LPI), meaning even if an enemy aircraft has Radar Warning Receivers (RWR), it won’t necessarily know that an AESA radar has already spotted and tracked it since it won’t be able to detect the AESA radar’s signal easily.

As a side note, the ELM-2084 is so capable that not only can it track aircraft and missiles, it can also track the much smaller Mortar and Artillery rounds, although the MR system is not designed to deal with those types of threats.

Up to this writing there is still no indication which version the Philippines’ armed forces will be getting. From the above information we can see that the MR version is superior to the SR version in a lot of areas. The MR can hit targets at longer ranges and have more missiles at the ready.

The AESA radar of its RSU is difficult to detect, and even if they do manage to somehow find and attack it, the occupants of the CCU will be safer since it can be separated from the RSU by some distance. Of course, if the RSU is destroyed then the system will end up being “blind”, but both Spyder versions have an Electro Optical Infra-Red (EOIR) back up sensor unit, although it has a much lesser range than a radar.

Pictures of the Python 5 and Derby missiles with (for the Spyder-MR) and without Boosters (for the Spyder-SR).

With more equipment and weapons, the MR is the more complex and the heavier version which means it is more expensive than the SR. Singapore bought the SR version while India bought the MR. Online sources are not so clear on what version Vietnam bought, but SIPRI lists it as the MR.

The SR uses a conventional MSA radar which is not stealthy like an AESA radar, and since the RSU is already integrated into the CCU then the Occupants of the CCU are a little bit more vulnerable if the RSU is attacked.

But the combined CCU/RSU of the SR version is fully mobile, and in case of an attack as a last resort the radar can be turned off and the CCU/RSU can be driven away quickly to a safer location.

’Surface to Air Missiles’
The Spyder systems use two different types of missiles, the Python-5 and the I-Derby. The name “Spyder” itself was derived by combining the name of these two missiles. The Python 5 is the latest of the Israeli made Python family of missiles which was first developed in the 1960s.

The Python 5 was first unveiled in 2003 and since then has had at least two claimed kills to its name, although the Python family of missiles has had a hundred or so kills over the last couple of decades. It uses an EOIR Guidance system and weighs around 105 kg.12

The I-Derby on the other hand is an improved version of the Derby missile that was first introduced in the late 1990s which in turn has its roots in the Python 4 missile.13 The I-Derby was introduced only very recently in 2015, but unlike the Python family of missiles, the Derby family of missiles has not been credited yet with a kill in actual combat.14 The I-Derby differs from the Python 5 in that it uses an Active Radar Guidance system (it has a small radar of its own on its nose) and is a bit longer and heavier.

’Why Two Missiles?’
As to why the need to use different types of missiles, the likely answer to this is to increase the chances of making a kill of high performance targets. One tactic used by SAM users from the Soviets during the Cold War to the North Vietnamese during Vietnam War and all the way up to the Iraqis during Desert Storm is to use a salvo of two to three missiles against a single high value target.15

This is a more expensive way to try to destroy a target, but it does increase the chances of scoring a kill compared to just using a single missile. In the case of the Spyder, the target not only has to worry about facing multiple missiles, but it also has to worry about countering two different types of guidance systems which in turn increases further the chances of a kill.

Another reason could be economics as IR Guided missiles are generally cheaper than Active Radar guided missiles. Not sure if this is the case with the Python 5 and I-Derby though as accurate prices for the former hasn’t been officially released yet.

But if it is, then the option of using a cheaper Python 5 missile could be used in ideal conditions for lower performance threats like UAVs, Helicopters or low performance Fixed Wing aircraft. IR Sensors though like the one used on Python 5’s Guidance System doesn’t work as well in Rain or Fog,16 while Radar Sensors like the one on the I-Derby have full Day/Night/All-Weather capability.

’For Air to Air Use’
One intriguing thing I find with the Spyder system is that Rafael claims in their brochure that “the same missiles can also be used for air to air missions”, meaning the very same missiles can be installed on either the Spyder or on aircraft. This simplifies things a bit as an armed forces can just buy and use the same missiles for both its air and ground based air defense systems.

Both the Python 5 and I-Derby are technically vastly superior to the AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles we have ordered for our FA-50PH Fighting Eagle aircraft.17 The Python 5 for example has High Off Boresight Capability, meaning it can be aimed in a much bigger area in front of it using a Helmet Mounted Sight (HMS) before launch.

It even has what Rafael describes as “Full Sphere” capability where it can maneuver to turn 180 degrees and hit an enemy aircraft behind it. This is possible because of its LOAL capability, meaning it can be fired even if it has not locked on to a target yet if necessary, it can then just search the target on its own.

The I-Derby on the other hand can also be aimed via an HMS and has datalink capability allowing it to fired at longer ranges. There is only one problem though in terms of using these missiles for our Air Force: None of our aircraft including the FA-50PH are qualified for use with them yet.

Rafael is offering to integrate both of these missiles into the FA-50,18 19 but it will incur additional costs. If we do go and buy the Spyder system, then this is one option that we could consider later for our FA-50PH aircraft.

’Poor Tropical Climate Performance?’
In December 2018, the Russian News Agency Tass reported that the Spyder system was performing poorly in Vietnam’s Tropical Climate, frequently breaking down and failing to fire when tested, causing Vietnam to consider not buying additional batches of the system. Tass’ report though was unofficial and not confirmed by the Vietnam government.20

Note also that Tass is owned by the Russian government21 who has very close military ties to Vietnam and is offering competing SAM systems. Another user of the Spyder system also with a Tropical Climate, Singapore, has not reported any similar problems with their system so far, and seems by all accounts to be happy with it.

However, I do find it a bit strange that both the Vietnamese government and Rafael has not gone out and denied the issue outright even after Tass brought out in in the open to the public. So there might be some substance to the report, exactly what I’m not sure of.

If we are really going to buy the Spyder, and if we haven’t done so already yet, it might be worthwhile to try to send teams to both Singapore and Vietnam to get first-hand information about the system.

Both Singapore and Vietnam have not publicly released details of the Contracts of their Spyder acquisition. There are some cost information about India’s acquisition of the Spyder-MR, but the figures are contradicting.

Some sources say that India bought 18 batteries for USD 1 billion or a cost of USD 55.5 million each battery,22 but other sources say the cost was only USD 260 million or USD 14.4 million per battery.23 Not sure at this point which one of these figures is the correct one.

’Parting Shot’
Overall I think the SR and MR versions of the Spyder are good systems, and if we do buy either or even both versions of them, then it will be a gigantic leap in our overall Air Defense capability. As of now the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) only have manually aimed 40 mm Bofors cannon, twin .50 caliber Heavy Machine Guns, the UT-25 turrets mounted on M113 and Mistral Man Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) for ground based air defense.

The Spyder is a true SAM system, and ensures that we will have a modern and more effective ground based defense against aerial threats even if our aircraft in air to air missions are not available or present in an area. We may want to take a closer look at the system though from the actual users themselves before we go out and buy it.

Here’s hoping that the procurement for it, or at the very least systems similar to it, will finally push thru after all these years.

Rear view of a Spyder SR Missile Firing Unit (MFU). Photo courtesy of cks2k2 thru Flickr.


  1. PH to acquire SPYDER Missiles from Israel: Lorenzana,
  2. PH plans to tap Israel for Missile Launchers,
  3. The Philippine Navy’s Strategic Sail Plan 2020: A Strong and Credible Force by 2020?
  4. Rafael introduce New Integrated Business Areas at DEFEXPO 04,
  5. Israeli “SPYDER” Mobile Air Defense System – First India, now Vietnam,
  6. The Future of Singapore’s Ground-Based Air Defense,
  7. Analysis: Georgia’s Air Defence in the August War,
  8. Rafael Air Defense,
  9. Tactical 3D Air Defense Radar – ELM-2106 ATAR,
  10. Multi-Mission Radar Family – ELM-2084MMR,
  11. Understanding AESA: A Game-Changer in RADAR Technology,
  12. Python-5 Air-to-Air Missile (AAM) – Israel,
  13. Derby Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile,
  14. Derby BVR Air-to-Air Missile,
  15. Magnum! The Wild Weasels in Desert Storm by Brick Eisel, Chapter 1 
  16. Seeing through Fog and Rain with a Thermal Imaging Camera,
  17. Military rolls out ‘dramatic’ Capability Upgrade,
  18. Rafael Armed FA-50PH (Wikimedia Commons),
  19. On Show: Rafael’s Python-5 and i-Derby AAMs – page 49,
  20. Vietnam may drop purchase of new batch of Israeli Air Defense Missile Systems – Source,
  21. Putin rules the Rink,
  22. India to buy Rafael’s Spyder Missile Systems in $1 Billion deal,
  23. Israeli “SPYDER” Mobile Air Defense … 

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