The missile that gives IAF helicopter pilots the flexibility they need

Until a few years ago the Tammuz weapon system was highly classified. But now the Israeli air force (IAF) is prepared to describe it as one of its most efficient weapons against terror targets.

Like many Israeli weapons, the Tammuz missile was developed after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the Israeli defence forces (IDF) faced Syrian and Egyptian armored forces. During the conflict enemy tanks swept across the Sinai and Golan Heights, and this became a central concern after the war was over, changing the army’s perceptions about the need to counter armored forces.

Rafael, Israel’s main missile manufacturer,  initially developed the Spike NLOS (Tammuz) as a system to stop enemy tanks. But the threats have changed, and now the main operational requirements are to hit terror targets in the Gaza strip and Lebanon.

This of course initiated an effort to develop more advanced versions of the missile.

Over the years, Tammuz missiles have been launched in almost every military confrontation. Even today, IAF helicopters launch Tammuz missiles at hostile targets, and it is considered a weapon system that “does the job”.

The ability to control the missile during its flight to the target is just as important as its accuracy and lethality.

An event that occurred during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 demonstrated the advanced capabilities of the missile.

“I was in the air, over the sea between Tyre and Sidon, waiting for the order,” explains Col (res) Tzvika, a former pilot in the first combat helicopter squadron, in an interview on the IAF website. “I was quickly contacted by headquarters and given a target: a vehicle on the road between Tyre and Sidon, and I had to hit it as soon as possible. As soon as I was within launching range, I shot a Tammuz missile towards the target.”

“From afar, the vehicle looked like a small target, but as the missile approached the target, I identified it better. A moment before the missile hit, I saw through the camera the letters ‘TV’ on the car’s side, meaning that the vehicle belonged to the media or to journalists. I had exactly a second to decide what I would do and I decided not to take the risk of hitting civilians. At the last moment, I moved the missile and I didn’t hit the car.”

Shortly thereafter, the pilot contacted  headquarters and reported what he saw through the camera. He was told that the issue was known and to hit the car despite the marking.

“After the second order, I fired another missile towards the car and I destroyed it. When I returned to the squadron after the attack I decided to delve deeper into the subject and I checked intelligence information. It turned out that they tracked the car for several days and a Hezbollah commander of the region was traveling in the car. I discovered that they did not inform me about the camouflage in the form of a press vehicle because at headquarters no one imagined that the missile camera would reach such a high level of visibility and accuracy.”

Since then the Spike NLOS has been further developed and now it is considered one of the most efficient combat-proven weapon systems for helicopters.

While trying to make the most of this special weapon system the IAF has tested it against aerial targets. It did not surprise the pilots when they launched it against a small drone and hit the target. So the missile is now considered an optional weapon against enemy helicopters and unmanned air systems (UAS).

The Tammuz was the main weapon system of the IAF’s Cobra helicopters and is now carried by the IAF’s Apaches and Apache Longbows.

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