"Barak 8" versus "Yakhont"

Israel's defense establishment is concerned about Russia's decision to supply Syria with "Yakhont" anti-ship missiles that can hit a target at ranges of hundreds of kilometers while traveling at a speed greater than Mach 2. Israel has not been idle: the "Barak 8" missile is being developed in a huge arms deal with India
"Sa'ar 5" missile ship (Photo: Israely Navy) "Sa'ar 5" missile ship (Photo: Israely Navy)

The Israeli defense establishment is increasingly disturbed over Russia's decision to supply the Syrian army with the "Yakhont" – a supersonic, shore-to-ship cruise missile (known in the West as P-800 Oniks). To counter this threat, Israeli missile boats will soon be equipped with "Barak 8" anti-missile missiles - the advanced version of "Barak 1". Israel's defense industries are developing a similar version for the Indian navy, even as other Indian defense industries work with Russia on a local version of the "Yakhont".

Published accounts of Russia's intention to sell the "Yakhont" to Syria, first appeared in 2009. The following year Russia officially announced its decision to go through with the deal, in spite of Israel's political efforts to block it. Israeli security officials have recently informed IsraelDefense that the missile deal appears cut-and-dried. According to Israeli estimates, despite Russia's interest in maintaining good relations with the West, and its 2010 decision to procure UAVs and technology transfer from Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) (estimated at over $400 million), the sale of advanced weapons to Syria, defined as "defensive armaments", is important to Russia for economic reasons and retaining its regional status.

"Yakhont" poses a veritable nightmare for the Israeli navy given its offensive capability which is a giant leap ahead of present-day shore-to-ship missiles in the region. The new missile can hit a vessel 300 kilometers from the shore with a powerful warhead packed with a 200 kilogram load of explosives. This means that Israeli ships will be under almost permanent threat from the "Yakhont" (which will probably be delivered, with Israel's knowledge, to Hezbollah).

The "Yakhont's" specs make it extremely difficult to intercept since it's a "sea skimming" missile: fifteen kilometers from the target it drops to an altitude of ten meters above the water, making it practically impossible for radar to detect. The missile cruises at a truly incredible velocity - more than twice the speed of sound (Mach two), and its radar homing device is built in such a way that electro-optic defense systems are all but at a loss "to lock" onto it once it's in flight. The Indian version of the missile, called "BrahMos", is already in an advanced stage of development.

Israel's "Barak 8" defense system for protection against shore-to-ship missiles began in 2000 as a joint project of the navy, IAI, Rafael, and the Defense Ministry’s Research and Development Authority (MAFAT). The system is planned to replace "Barak 1" missiles that have been operational for some time. The new system, "Barak 8", is designed to protect not only missile boats but also warship groups engaged in joint operations in a given area. The goal is to cover the entire group with circumferential protection by sending data from the vessels' radar systems to a command and control (C2) system, and coordinating the data between the vessels in order to create a composite picture of the battle and impending threats. The moment a threat is detected, the system issues a fire order to each of the systems mounted on the ships' decks according to their expediency for neutralizing the threat.

"Barak 8" consists of an advanced C2 system developed by the IAI's Mabat (space systems and technologies) that integrates task management to of a single fire-control system or simultaneous fire control by a number of units. Based on STAR-MF-LB-type radar (EL/M- 2084) developed by Elta Systems Ltd, "Barak 8" displays a semicircular numerical image at a 360 degree angle above the ship or layout of ships. It excels in high resolution and is capable of detecting missiles with very low radar signature.

The installment of the defense system on Israeli navy "Sa’ar 5" missile boats is designated to begin next year alongside the older "Barak 1" systems.

"Barak 8" is a single-stage missile with fixed stabilizers in its lower section and flight control surfaces in its nose. It's mounted in vertically fixed, cylindrical launch canisters below the ship's deck. During target engagement, the missile is vertically launched and immediately enters in flight horizontal position in order to hit and destroy the target, all the while receiving navigational updates from the vessel's guidance system. When the target enters the range of the independent detection systems, the missile zeroes in and destroys the target.

"Barak 8" has a sophisticated seeker designed to intercept low-flying aircraft and sea-skimming missiles in any type of weather.

Developed for the Israeli navy, has been adapted for India's naval needs. The project's development and production, and integration into the Indian navy, in the deal signed in 2009, is considered one of the largest projects in the history of Israel's defense industries. The scope of the transaction is in the billions of dollars. The Indian version of the missile is also designed to be shore launched, thus protecting the subcontinent from sea and air threats.

Management of the project required the establishment of the new "Air Defense Plant", a subsidiary of IAI, in late 2009.Testing "Barak 8's" systems began in 2007. It is currently being tested on "Sa'ar 5"-class corvettes and will become operational in 2011. Next year the system will be installed on Indian ships and in static shore bases.