The Spike Missile: Has Israel Developed the Ultimate Weapon to Kill Tanks?
The success of the Spike is not limited to the NLOS missile. In the 1990s, trials were undertaken to adapt the Spike missile technology as a smaller weapon, as the IDF needed a new ATGM to replace the aging American M47 Dragon ATGMs currently in use. According to Jane’s Infantry Weapons, the first test firings of this system took place in 1992. First fielded was the Gill missile, known as Spike-MR to the international market. This was a fire-and-forget missile that lacks the command guidance of the Spike-NLOS in exchange for a far lighter launching platform and missile. This version also achieved significant export success, winning Finnish ATGM trials and an order in 2000. This version was also quickly adopted by Singapore and the Netherlands. The Spike-MR can be considered to be a competitor to the American Javelin system, as both consist of similar components and technology. Both have a Command-Launch Unit (CLU) with an integrated Thermal Sight on the launch platform, and both missiles use an electro-optical sensor to home in on their targets. The Spike-MR recently beat out the Javelin in a competition for a large Indian contract.
Rafael has continued to develop the Spike family of missiles. The Spike-LR version reintroduces some of the Spike-NLOS functionality into the smaller Spike missiles, with the same fiber-optic data-link technology that allows the operator to see what the missile sees. This version entered IDF service around the same time as the Spike-MR, and also achieved significant export success, winning large European contracts, including with Germany and Poland. It is popular as a vehicle-mounted ATGM, replacing the Milan in German use as the primary ATGW for the German Infantry Fighting Vehicle. It also has options to be integrated onto helicopters. Recently, the IDF placed orders for the upgraded Spike-LR2. The newer missile comes with more lethal warheads, and the ability for the new CLU to receive data from other sources.
Continuing development, Rafael released the Spike-SR in 2012: a small disposable version meant for squad-level use. Unlike the Spike-MR, where the soldier uses the CLU to acquire the target, which then feeds the data to the Spike missile, a soldier uses the missile seeker itself to acquire the target with the Spike-SR. The Spike-SR also achieved export success in 2016. The final member of the Spike family is the Spike-ER, which is similar to the Spike-LR with additional range and some other features. It has been used by Israel on their Apache helicopters, as well as by the Finns on a ground mount for coastal defense.
But what makes the Spike so successful at export? The commendable performance of the missile in trials and advanced fire-and-observe features are no doubt part of it. But the largest part is probably Rafael’s willingness to license production of the Spike to the countries that adopt it. When Poland adopted the Spike-LR, the Polish Spike’s rocket engines, warheads and launch tubes were made by ZM Mesko, a Polish company. Similar licensing is happening with the Indian adoption of the Spike-MR.
Overall, the Spike missile series is a testament to the ability of the Israeli defense complex to produce novel solutions to diverse threats. It is one of the most successful export and licensing stories of ATGW to this day, with thousands of licensed Spikes being produced around the globe.
Charlie Gao studied Political and Computer Science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national security issues.