The Sparrow nest may yet grow further

Infantry soldiers are trained on how to use assault rifles by shooting at paper targets, while fighter pilots dry-launch on other aircraft “playing” the enemy – but the training and testing becomes very complicated when the aim is to test interceptors intended to kill ballistic missiles.

So, it is only natural that Israel is building a three-tier defence system against rockets and ballistic missiles, and will also develop targets that allow testing of the defence systems.

This effort makes Israeli company Rafael a unique supplier of targets that make good surrogate ballistic missiles.

The most advanced in this line of targets is the Silver Sparrow – developed as part of the Arrow-3 interceptor programme. This interceptor was developed to defend Israel against long-range ballistic missiles.

The Silver Sparrow is the third generation of Rafael’s target missiles. The first was the Black Sparrow, followed by the Blue Sparrow, and now the “Silver Sparrow” is being developed to allow intercept tests with the Arrow-3 system.

The Black Sparrow was developed in the 1990s as part of the “Arrow-1″ programme. It was based on the Rafael’s Popeye air-to-surface missile. This target missile, which weighs 1.4t, is capable of simulating a Scud-B ballistic missile.

The Blue Sparrow was developed to simulate a more advanced Scud-D ballistic missile, and weighs 1.8t.

The more advanced Silver Sparrow is being developed after Rafael won a competition against Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). This target weighs 3.2t and is 8m long.

Interest in the Sparrow family is mounting. Last year the French press reported that the French air force used the Black Sparrow in a test of its ASTER 30 surface-to-air missile.

The US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is also following the development of the new Israeli target missiles. It will evaluate the use of the Sparrow line of air-launched targets for future intercept tests of ballistic missiles.

Rafael has signed a cooperation agreement with Raytheon for the marketing of its Sparrow target missiles to the MDA and other countries.

As the world begins to grasp that ballistic missiles are the weapon of choice for countries that are not able to form sophisticated air forces, the need for defensive systems will grow every year.

There are signs that more and more countries will either purchase systems to defend their population from the long range threat or try to develop it in-house.

This promises a growing demand for the existing Rafael Sparrow family members – and perhaps for some new ones.

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