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Spike NLOS

Anti-tank guided missile

Spike NLOS missile

The groundbreaking Spike NLOS was the first operational missile to use fiber-optic camera guidance, and is one of the longest-range anti-tank missiles ever produced

 
 
Country of origin Israel
Entered service 1981
Armor penetration ~ 700 mm
Range of fire 25 km
Missile length 1.67 m
Launch tube length 1.7 m
Missile diameter 0.17 m
Fin span 350 mm or ~ 250 mm (see text)
Missile weight 71 kg
Warhead weight ?
Warhead type HEAT, HE-FRAG, HEDP
Guidance IR camera, fiber-optic cable and radio command

 

   A product of Rafael in Israel, the Spike NLOS is a long-range Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) system employed by a wide range of launch platforms, including helicopters, tank destroyers, light vehicles, and even watercraft. NLOS is shorthand for "Non-Line-Of-Sight", a reference to the Spike NLOS' "over the horizon" range and indirect attack capabilities. It is named the Tamuz in Israel Defense Forces (IDF) service, the Exactor in British service, and the Typhoon in Azerbaijani service.

   In 2009, FlightGlobal reported that Rafael revealed the existence of a new, longer-range version of the Spike series of missiles. While the other models had ranges of up to 8 km, the new missile --- dubbed the Spike NLOS --- reportedly had a range of 25 km. This was no small surprise to the global military community, given that the same report also noted that the US Army had been struggling to develop missiles with comparable ranges for many years (the JCM and JAGM programs were mentioned).

   However, the truth behind the origins of the Spike NLOS weren't publicly disclosed until 2011, and it proved even more surprising.

   Development of the Spike NLOS had actually begun in the mid-1970s, and was strongly influenced by the IDF's experience with ATGMs during the Yom Kippur War. It can be surmised that they took this experience seriously, as much of it was gained on the receiving end; IDF tank losses were notoriously heavy during this war (especially from Arab ATGMs), and Israeli tankers ended up suffering over 75% of all personnel casualties in the IDF. The IDF's own anti-tank combat experiences often occurred at relatively close range, and highlighted a need for a weapon with a longer reach.

   It is also probable that the Spike NLOS was at least partially derived from --- or at least influenced by --- the American FOG-M missile (another extremely long-range ATGM, guided by camera via fiber-optic wire), for a number of reasons. First, these missiles very strongly resemble one another in both form and function, all the way down to their launch tubes and extremely long spring-out crucifix fins. Second, their development timelines overlap very closely, and the FOG-M was mature enough by 1980 that it could likely have entered service in 1981 as well. Third, the US and Israel had extremely strong political and military ties in the 1970s, which cannot be overstated; arms from many nations had been exported to Israel since its founding, but the Eastern Bloc threw in their lot with the Arabs instead in the late 1950s, while British and French arms exports essentially turned against Israel; for example, the IDF were quite livid when the Chieftain tank and Mirage V fighter --- both designed, developed, and produced exclusively for Israel, with extensive IDF input into their designs during their development --- were instead given to Arab nations. It's no accident that the US was the almost exclusive provider of arms to Israel since 1967, nor that relationship became close enough that US military equipment and were airlifted directly into Israel during the fighting in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

   Whatever the truth behind the Spike NLOS' origins, there is no denying that the IDF was astonishingly effective in keeping its existence secret (even though it was used in combat for almost three decades!). Another secrecy coup was the identity of the ATGM carrier originally developed especially to use the Spike NLOS. Nicknamed the Pereh in IDF service, this vehicle externally appeared to be an ordinary Magach 5 (IDF version of the M48A5 Patton), but it had a dummy gun, and concealed "pop-up" launchers were built directly into the turret roof. This ruse was so effective that the IDF did not disclose the identity or nature of this vehicle until 2014, years after even the Spike NLOS itself was declassified.

   There are a total of 5 versions of the Spike NLOS missile from throughout its development history, with the most current model being the Mk.5, though no details on the differences between all of these missiles have been published. There are substantial external differences between the Mk.1 and Mk.5 models, however.

   Two different versions of the Spike NLOS have been seen, with two completely different fin configurations. The older Mk.1 version has shallow delta-shape fins in a 90-degree crucifix pattern, with long square-shaped trailing edges, set far aft. The Mk.5 examples currently offered by Rafael have two parallel sets of narrow rectangular fins in a 90-degree crucifix pattern, the forward fins being very long and located in the middle of the missile, the aft fins being short (almost square) and located near the tail. The fins are also wrapped around the fuselage until launch, with the aft fins springing into shape, and the forward fins swinging forward into the aforementioned pattern.

   The fuselage of the missile appears to be unchanged between the two generations of the Spike NLOS, with a long, narrow, cylindrical shape, a subtle aft boat tail, and a dome-shaped nose. The nose is composed of a transparent glass-like material, through which the infrared optics can be seen. While the Spike NLOS missile resembles the other missiles in the family, the fuselage is wider and shorter in proportion its length, giving this missile a portlier appearance. Information on the composition of the Spike NLOS has not been published.

   The Spike NLOS is launched from a rectangular metallic box launcher. The front cover of the launcher is hinged on the underside, and this drops-open when the missile is about to be launched. A single launch unit usually has a cluster of several of these launchers.

   The Spike NLOS is camera-guided, and linked to the launch platform via a trailing fiber-optic cable. The cable only unspools out to a range of 8 km, at which point it unplugs; if the missile is flown out to a further range, it is controlled from then onward by radio command. While this makes the Spike NLOS susceptible to jamming or interference at longer ranges, this compromise was necessitated by the problems of otherwise attempting to use a 25 km long cable. All other smaller Spike variants use similar camera guidance, except the infrared-guided Spike SR.

   The operator essentially "flies" the missile into the target, controlling it using a joystick, and receiving a first-person video feed onto a video screen from the nose of the missile. The camera has a passive infrared imaging capability, which strongly highlights the heat signature of vehicles, infantry, helicopters, and so on from the background, enabling the missile to engage almost any enemy in virtually any weather or visibility conditions.

   Propulsion is provided by a solid fuel rocket motor, though little other information on the propulsion system of the Spike NLOS has been published. Given its extraordinary range, it is likely a two-stage rocket motor, with the missile's augmented by flying along a high arc.

   The primary warhead of the Spike NLOS is a shaped charge HEAT warhead, reportedly able to penetrate at least 700 mm of steel armor. This is sufficient for the Spike NLOS to penetrate the armor of almost any armored vehicle in service. It is unclear if this warhead is equipped with a precursor charge to defeat explosive reactive armor, but it is probable that more recent Spike NLOS models have this feature.

   Alternate warheads are also offered by Rafael, including the "Penetration-Blast-Fragmentation" (PBF). It is a type of High Explosive Dual-Purpose (HEDP) warhead, derived from the design of the warhead used in the MATADOR rocket launcher), and an HE-FRAG warhead for maximum effect against soft targets.

   The IDF's primary launch platform for the Spike NLOS was originally the aforementioned Pereh, but this vehicle was withdrawn from service in 2017. Its primary launch platform is now the Hafiz, an M113A3 Gavin chassis topped with a 6-cell launcher, though a variety of other launch platforms exist. British Spike NLOS missiles were initially launched from the Hafiz as well, though these were later withdrawn from service in favor of towed SPARC launch trailers. ROKN missiles are launched from Agusta-Westland AW159 Wildcat helicopters, which the ROKMC launches the Spike NLOS from Plasan Sand Cat all-terrain vehicles. The Azerbaijani Navy uniquely employs the Spike NLOS as a naval missile on several warships, and the Army uses them on Sand Cats. The Columbian Army presently uses the Spike NLOS on Sikorsky AH-60L Arpía IV helicopters. Numerous other vehicles, helicopters, and watercraft have also been demonstrated or proposed as Spike NLOS launch platforms.

   The Spike NLOS has been used in combat in every Israeli conflict since the 1982 Lebanon War, though due to the veil of secrecy that surrounds its service with the IDF, no details are forthcoming. The name of this missile was invoked in numerous publications regarding the use of IDF missiles in areas like the Gaza Strip, though these have admitted that whether a specific Spike variant or some other missile was used could not be confirmed. Though more recently, IDF Spike NLOS missiles achieved some notoriety by successfully engaging Syrian Pantsir S1 anti-aircraft vehicles at extreme range.

   The most curious combat use of the Spike NLOS to date was by British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Identifying a critical capability gap in their order of battle, the British armed forces quickly and discreetly acquired the Hafiz ATGM carrier and 600 Spike NLOS missiles, which were promptly named the Exactor in British service. The Hafiz vehicles and the first 200 missiles were taken directly out of the IDF inventory, while the remaining missiles were produced to order in two different modified forms; these three batches were designated as the Exactor-1 (ex-IDF NLOS Mk.2 missiles), Exactor-2 (NLOS Mk.5).

   Rafael continues to manufacture and actively market the Spike NLOS. It is presently operated by Azerbaijan, Columbia, Israel, South Korea, and the United Kingdom, and is on order for the Philippines.

   According to the Teal Group, the unit cost of a single Spike NLOS in 2019 was approximately $100 000.

 

Variants

 

   Spike NLOS Mk.1 is initial configuration. It has shallow delta-shape fins in a 90-degree crucifix pattern, with long square-shaped trailing edges, set far aft.

   Spike NLOS Mk.2 is an improved version, resembling the Mk.1. British designation of this missile is Exactor-1 and it was based on M113 armored personnel carrier chassis.

   Spike NLOS Mk.3 is another version that presumably has the same general appearance with short delta-shaped fins of the Mk.1 model.

   Spike NLOS Mk.4. Is another variant with similar appearance. Most likely that Mk.1, Mk.2, Mk.3 and Mk.4 missiles are interchangeable.

   Spike NLOS Mk.5 is the latest version, currently offered by Rafael. It has two parallel sets of narrow rectangular fins in a 90-degree crucifix pattern, the forward fins being very long and located in the middle of the missile, the aft fins being short (almost square) and located near the tail. The fins are wrapped around the fuselage until launch, with the aft fins springing into shape, and the forward fins swinging forward into the aforementioned pattern. British designation of this missile is Exactor-2 and it was based on a towed trailer.

 

Similar weapons

 

   Nimrod: Another Israeli ATGM, and a contemporary of the Spike NLOS, the Nimrod is similar in size, range, and performance, but it laser-guided; as such, the Nimrod and Spike NLOS are frequently confused for one another. It can be surmised that the IDF developed two heavyweight ATGMs with ranges of 25 km or more for different mission sets.

   FOG-M: This US missile was developed at around the same time as the Spike NLOS, and was also camera-guided via a fiber-optic wire. It also *resembles* the Spike NLOS, though it was a significantly shorter-range weapon. The FOG-M (Fiber-Optic Guided Missile) was not adopted by the US military or any other armed forces, despite the program being revived in the late 1980s.

   MGM-157 EFOGM: A longer-range version of the FOG-M, the EFOGM (Enhanced Fiber-Optic Guided Missile) was a third generation version of this missile, with an infrared imaging camera. Development was basically complete by the mid-1990s, but the program was terminated to free-up funding for the RAH-66 Comanche stealthy reconnaissance and attack helicopter.

   XM501 NLOS-LS: This US missile was extremely similar in concept to the Spike NLOS as part of the Future Combat Systems program, but was controlled wirelessly. Initiated in 1997, this program was ultimately unsuccessful, and the XM501 NLOS-LS missile performed poorly in testing. It managed to service the cancellation of the FCS program in 2009, but further testing by the US Navy (who considered using it in their Littoral Combat Ships) yielded further disappointment, and the NLOS-LS was finally terminated in 2011.

   FOG-MPM: The FOG-MPM (Fiber-Optic Guided Multi-Purpose Missile) is a Brazilian long-range tactical missile similar in concept and employment to the Spike NLOS. It has been in development since the 1980s, but its current status is unclear.

   Polyphem: This multi-national missile project produced a weapon extremely similar in concept to the Spike NLOS in form and function, but was intended to have an even longer range of 60 km. The effort was ultimately unsuccessful, and the Polyphem program was abandoned in 2003.

   CM-501G: First publicly revealed in 2012, this Chinese missile has been in service since the early 2000s. It is similar in concept to the Spike NLOS, but is wireless, employs several different guidance methods. It is also significantly larger, with a much heavier warhead and a 60 km range.

   HJ-10 is a China's clone of the Spike NLOS. It uses the same technology. However the HJ-10 is much heavier. The missile weights 150 kg and carries a 43 kg warhead. Though its range was reduced to 10 km.

   ALAS: This Serbian missile is comparable in form and function to the Spike NLOS, including the use of camera guidance and control via a fiber-optic cable. It has been in service with the armed forces of the United Arab Emirates since the mid-2000s, but has not yet been adopted by Serbia.

   Type 96 MPM: Japan's Type 96 Multi-Purpose Missile System is another missile that conforms closely to both the concept and performance of the Spike NLOS. It became operational with the Japan Self-Defense Forces in 1996, and is not offered for export.

 

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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Spike NLOS missile

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