India and Australia are among the Asia-Pacific nations that Rafael has firmly in its sights with its current and in-development weapons and targeting systems. The company is “in the final stages” of developing the third and latest, ER, version of its I-Derby radar-guided air-to-air missile, and is eyeing a deal with New Delhi, which has already fitted the current I-Derby on its Aeronautical Development Agency Tejas light combat aircraft.

Rafael is also pitching its ubiquitous Litening targeting pod for India’s future fleet of Dassault Rafales. Meanwhile, the Haifa-based company has opened an office in Melbourne as it looks to develop Australian industrial partnerships to help pitch the likes of the I-Derby, shorter-range Python-5 air-to-air missile, and Spice air-to-ground weapon system.

As with all Israeli defence companies, the export market and partnering agreements are crucial for Rafael, despite the business’s prime role as the provider of firepower for the Israeli military. Until 2001, Rafael was a ministry of defence weapons research and development laboratory. Now, although still state-owned, the company, which employs 7,000 people mainly in two sites in the north of Israel and made $2.17 billion revenues in 2016, comes under the remit of the ministry of finance. It functions as an independent enterprise that has to compete for government contracts, file its accounts, and robustly market its products overseas, often in joint ventures or teaming arrangements in countries keen to establish local production and gain some transfer of technology. These include a manufacturing site in Orlando, Florida.

One of Rafael’s oldest such partnerships is with Northrop Grumman. It began working with the US defence giant on the Litening in 1995. Some 1,500 of the airborne, multi-spectral pods are flying on aircraft around the world – more than half of them in the USA, where Northrop has responsibility for deliveries and support to the country’s military. As well as US types from the Boeing B-52 to the Fairchild Republic A-10, the pod also features on the Panavia Tornado and Eurofighter Typhoon in Europe. With about 30 Litening customers, “it’s almost harder to name a platform that it’s not on”, remarks Gideon Weiss, deputy general manager for business development and marketing for Rafael’s air and C4ISR division.

Rafael – which developed its RecceLite tactical airborne reconnaissance system from Litening, using exactly the same housing – is working on the next-generation of the targeting system, which it expects to have operational within three years. Although the pod will be identical, the ongoing miniaturisation of the electronics means the product can pack in additional computing power and more advanced sensors. “It looks the same outside, but will be very different inside,” says Weiss. India – which uses the pod on several types of combat aircraft and has already committed to the Litening for its Tejas – could add to its inventory if it commits to the system the 36 Rafales it has on order. The sensors for the country would likely be manufactured by a local company, part owned by Rafael.

Among Rafael’s other prominent airborne offerings are its I-Derby and Python families of air-to-air missiles, which the company offers as complementary products. Again, thanks to more compact electronics, the latest-generation I-Derby ER, unveiled in 2015 and due to be available for delivery from 2020, has gained about 60cm of missile length over its predecessor, claims Rafael, creating space for a second pulse for the rocket motor and doubling its range to more than 54nm (100km). “We hope to finish negotiations soon to complete the first sale,” says Weiss. The origins of the beyond-visual-range Derby go back to the 1980s, and the latest version comes equipped with a new solid state seeker, “look-down/shoot-down” capability, and electronic counter-countermeasures to penetrate aircraft defence systems.

Spike is Rafael’s helicopter-mounted anti-tank missile – the company has delivered about 30,000 to 26 customers – and the latest version, the Spike-LR II, is due to be operational later this year, with the first customer, thought to be the Israeli military, in place. The product has an increased range of 5.4nm from helicopters, and gains a new electro-optical/infrared seeker with smart target tracker capabilities, says the company. Also, because the weapon’s weight has been reduced to 12.7kg (28lb), Rafael sees a new potential on lighter rotorcraft from the likes of Bell Helicopter or MD Helicopters, turning what are essentially more affordable, commercial platforms into attack aircraft. “We are working with manufacturers to try to market this combination of a great weapon system with a light helicopter,” says Weiss.

In terms of other programmes, Rafael also expects initial operational capability later this year for the newest variant of its main air-to-ground glide bomb, the Spice 250. The weapon carries a 250kg warhead and, using winglets, can glide to targets up to 54nm away. Four weapons can be deployed at once from a Smart Quad Rack on the aircraft.

Another new programme is X-Guard, a re-usable, fibre-optic cable-towed decoy. The system works by luring attacking air- and surface-launched missiles from the aircraft by creating a more attractive false target signal – including those using monopulse and lock-on receive-only techniques, resulting in impact and explosion a safe 100m or more away, says Rafael.

Additional reporting by Arie Egozi

Source: Flight International