The Israel Navy has begun a program to enhance its sea-to-surface missile capabilities, a senior naval source told The Jerusalem Post in recent days.
Although details of the weapons program remain classified, the source said the planned upgrade was a part of an overall strategic vision in which the navy plays a growing role in the IDF’s integrated warfare capabilities.
Once in service, the new weapons will enable missile ships to launch precise, long-range strikes on enemy ground based targets, the source said.
“The navy sees itself as a partner to the ground forces. One of the directions we are moving toward is developing the ability to work with ground forces,” the source said.
“We are aiming to move up in this field, and we are interested in precision weapons,” he said.
Planned upgrades are also scheduled for sea-to-sea missiles.
The source is familiar with the navy’s Weapons Systems Division, which develops defensive and offensive capacities, as well as detection abilities, and command and control.
The navy’s growing firepower, he said, allows Israeli decision-makers to “activate forces they know are always to the west [in the Mediterranean Sea]. This allows flexibility. Our role is to provide flexibility for decision-makers.”
Additionally, the navy is playing a growing role in Israeli efforts to stop illicit arms smuggling to regional terrorist groups. Some of the weapons, such as long-range rockets, threaten the Israeli home front, while others, like advanced Yakhont anti-ship missiles that are believed to be in Hezbollah’s possession, pose a direct threat to the navy itself.
“Due to regional instability, and the loss of state sovereignty in some areas, we are seeing arms smuggling and growing threats,” the source said. “The rate at which arms are reaching the northern and southern sectors is fast. We know where we will have to provide solution to these threats.”
Navy officials are equipping vessels in a way that is designed to allow them to deal with multiple threats simultaneously.
This ensures their continued freedom of movement, the source said.
“Otherwise, the State of Israel will stop working,” the source warned, in reference to the country’s heavy reliance on maritime traffic for imports.
“When a non-state organization gets weapons, we can’t rely on them to always act rationally,” he said.
Even today, missile ships have methods of coping with Hezbollah’s offensive capabilities, the source said.
Such measures may be needed not only in times of conflict, but also to fend off potential Hezbollah attacks on natural gas drilling platforms, located off the Israeli coastline in the Mediterranean Sea, which the navy defends.
“Our force-building process and capabilities in the area allow us to defend these facilities,” the source said.
In addition to missiles, the Weapons Systems Division has been working with Israeli defense corporations to develop new radars for missile ships.
This has resulted in the Adir (Powerful) radar, described by the source as the “most advanced naval radar system Israel has seen. Relative to what’s available in the world, it is one of the most advanced,” he said.
A fixed phased-array system, the Adir radar was built by Israel Aerospace Industries.
The radar has four “walls” that allow it to permanently gaze at the ship’s surroundings.
It scans 180 degrees and assembles a “picture” of threats, such as low-flying missiles, or fighter jets flying at high altitude.
The source said that the radar’s electronic beam tracks moving targets continuously, allowing for rapid tracking and lock-on, and a speedy missile strike on the target if necessary.
“We can view many targets,” the source said. “The Adir has the added value of being able to deal with multiple targets.”
The old, revolving radars would need to bounce a signal off a target at least twice or three times before detecting it.
The fixed phased-array radar, in contrast, does not need to spin and wait for repeated hits to confirm a target, saving valuable time, he said.
One such system is already installed on a Sa’ar 5-class corvette, together with Barak 8 air defense missiles, which can hit targets from long-range, including aircraft.
A Sa’ar 4.5-class corvette has, meanwhile, been equipped with a rotating phased-array radar, together with Barak 1 air defense missiles.
Hence, the source said, despite threats like the Yakhont anti-ship missile, “our ships that go out to sea today can defend themselves.”
These upgrades mean “smaller targets can be seen and intercepted from longer ranges,” the source said.
Additional upgrades are taking place in the field of passive and active Electronic Warfare, and the navy’s in-house command and control system.
“We’re changing the way we manage battles. This is an organizational, cultural change.
These abilities are also tied in to the world of software,” he said.
The Weapons Systems Division is staffed by engineers and electronics experts. Many are sought after by Israeli defense corporations following their release from service, the source said.