Weapons: Orbiter Fire Weaves with Spike


May 2, 2023: Greece is spending about $400 million on a unique Israeli combat system. The new system uses Orbiter 3 UAVs to seek out targets and automatically cause a Spike NLOS missile to be launched from an aircraft, ground vehicle or ship to hit the target. Israel developed this system over several decades and now it is widely used in the Israeli military as Fire Weaver.

The Orbiter 3 UAV is a 32 kg (70 pound) fixed wing UAV with endurance of at least six hours, a top speed of 125 kilometers an hour and max range (from ground controller) of 50 kilometers. The guided missile is Spike (Non-Line-Of- Sight) NLOS, which weighs 71 kg (156 pounds) in its storage/launch container and has a max range of 50 kilometers. Fire Weaver takes data from existing sensors on tanks and other armored vehicles as well as artillery, UAVs and warplanes and rapidly (within five seconds) lets vehicles, warplanes and artillery know which available target each combat system should fire at. This eliminates a common battlefield situation where too many weapons fire on some targets while other targets are not initially fired on at all. Currently, tank crews and artillery spotters (troops who call back to tell artillery which targets to hit) have manual procedures for picking which targets they should fire at. That often works quite well, especially during a situation where a tank unit encountering the enemy has an opportunity to fire first. Fire Weaver automates these decisions and makes more effective choices more quickly. The troops and pilots can override the Fire Weaver selected target but tests have shown that Fire Weaver is usually quite effective in selecting the best targets for each tank, artillery unit or aircraft.

For the Greek system the principal weapon is the Spike NLOS missile. The current version is the sixth major upgrade for Spike NLOS and adds some major new features, including longer range (to 50 kilometers), salvo fire and improved use of networks. That means four Spike NLOS missiles can be launched by a helicopter and control of one or more of these missiles can be instantly transferred to another helicopter. The new version of Spike NLOS is also more reliable and effective when facing jamming or other forms of interference.

Spike NLOS was first developed in the 1970s as Tamuz and entered service in 1981 with a range of ten kilometers and used a trained human operator to hit the distant target. By the 1990s, advances in electronics, software and design made it possible to add “fire and forget” and other operator friendly features to most new ATGM (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles). Rafael, the Israeli firm that developed and built Tamuz, transferred some of the Tamuz tech to its Spike family of ATGMs, which first entered service in 1997. Rafael noticed that upgrades to Tamuz tech were converging with what the Spike family of ATGMs, and competing foreign systems, were using. Eventually it made sense to call the latest version of Tamuz what it really was, a longer range of the Spike missile, which became known as Spike NLOS. Meanwhile, Israel had pioneered the development of reconnaissance and surveillance UAVs as well as ever-more-powerful fire control systems.

Israel successfully used Spike NLOS during the 2006 war with Hezbollah in south Lebanon and the 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza. Now that most of the details of what Spike NLOS is, where it came from and what it has been through, have been published, it is an increasingly popular, if expensive, export item. But that is mainly because various versions of this missile, first as Tamuz then as Spike NLOS, had been in service since 1981, were battle tested and known to be very dependable and effective no matter what tech they used.




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