When IMI made the strategic decision to invest in the field of accurate rockets, it was difficult to predict that this move would lead to the selling of fire support layouts to countries all over the world.
That is not all: IMI is currently competing in the final stage of a tender for the supply of a new fire support layout to the Polish Army. If IMI wins this tender, its backlog of orders for rocket systems will be doubled. Very soon, Poland should choose between the proposal of a US-based manufacturer and the proposal of the Israeli company to deploy a layout of accurate rockets with a range of 40-250 kilometers along the eastern borders of the country. The new layout should provide a solution to the threat of a Russian invasion, which the former members of the USSR have come to regard as a danger to them since the Russian invasion into the Crimean peninsula.
One person who predicts a bright future for rocket layout sales is the Head of IMI's Advanced Artillery & Rockets Administration, Brig. Gen. (res.) Eli Reiter, who granted an exclusive interview to Israel Defense. Reiter is a former Armored Corps officer who commanded the IDF regular armored division on the Golan Heights (the 36th Division). He was appointed to head the Administration about six months ago, having served in a series of business positions, in place of Brig. Gen. (res.) Michel Ben-Baruch, who was appointed as Director of the Defense Export & Defense Cooperation Division (SIBAT) of IMOD.
The Advanced Artillery & Rockets Administration had not existed within the IMI structure "from time immemorial". It was established in the context of a comprehensive reorganization that included the establishment of business units within the HQ of this government corporation, in preparation for the privatization process which is currently nearing its peak. At present, the Administration coordinates the operations of several major fields. In addition to rockets, its primary fields of activity include coastal defense and tube artillery.
"I undertook the management of the Administration after IMI CEO Avi Felder had contacted me, and spoke to me mainly about the rocket field," says Reiter. "It seemed like a very interesting challenge, so I jumped right in. I discovered some amazing technological capabilities at IMI. Even I was surprised by what I found here.
"Another positive surprise involved the business aspect, when I found many existing clients in Israel and around the world."
Some of the countries where the Administration sells rocket and artillery systems include Kazakhstan, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Romania and Chile.
The rocket system offered by IMI is based on the Lynx launcher, which may be mounted on various types of trucks. The launcher accommodates different rocket "combinations" – from two tubes of Predator Hawk rockets to a range of 250 kilometers to multiple tubes of smaller caliber rockets, or a combination of long-range and short-range rockets. All of the launcher tubes are controlled by the same command and control system. In the short-range rocket category, IMI offers "Katyusha" style 122mm rockets. Additionally, it offers the accurate 160mm Accular rockets and the Extra rockets that have a range of 150 kilometers and an accuracy of a few meters. Extra rockets have already been sold to several countries around the world. The 250 km range Predator Hawk rocket was unveiled by IMI for the first time in the summer of 2014.
The navigation mechanisms of the rockets are based on GPS satellites and a mechanism that corrects the rocket's trajectory by means of "pulses" generated by gas emissions. The rockets remain in contact with the command system throughout their flight and continuously correct their trajectory, all the way to the target.
"The challenge we face is delivering complete systems – not just a missile, a launcher or a command and control element separately, and remain at the cutting edge of technology in this field," says Eli Reiter.
"IMI has been leading a strategy within the rocket field. Our people realized that we must enter the world of precision, but still do it cheaply. With our rockets, we offer amazing accuracy for the right price.
"For a reasonable price, we offer GPS accuracy standards. We do not deal with optics. We intend to go into other areas, but our core technology is GPS. Anything beyond that is much more expensive. If you want to be effective, you must remain at a comfortable price level and provide the client with the option of acquiring complete layouts.
"As a system house, we provide end-to-end solutions based on the extensive capabilities of IMI. Beyond accuracy, it is important to understand that the warheads of the rockets are very large, which means that we also offer exceptional lethality. Using an accurate rocket, we can take a 120 kilogram bomb and deliver it very accurately even at a specific house in an urban warfare environment.
"We are the only manufacturer in the world capable of offering launchers and rockets with a range of 10 kilometers all the way to a range of 250 kilometers – and everything is manufactured at IMI.
"Our Accular rocket is a magical phenomenon. We took a free rocket and fitted it with the 'magic trick' of pulsers (small igniter engines). You take the spin as a phenomenon, fit the pulsers to the rocket and then launch a 35 kilogram warhead to a range of 40 kilometers with an accuracy of 10 meters. We have sold more than 700 of these rockets. The rocket spins, so we found a way to utilize that spin, as we know where to activate the pulser at the appropriate place.
"The Extra rocket is also based on a new technology. In this case we went for a fin-stabilized rocket. The rocket knows how to correct itself at a distance of two to three kilometers from the target."
How do you explain the explosion of the rocket world in this day and age? After all, this technology dates back to the 1930s…
"I think that the accuracy that can be achieved today makes the difference, as the warhead is optimal anyway. A 30 kilogram warhead can drop a 1.5-storey house. You need to know how to disperse those layouts, and they will provide you with both short range and long range solutions. A country interested in deterrence to a range of 250 kilometers will have a solution as well. In addition to our competition in Poland, we already have a country that ordered rockets for 250 kilometers."
Aren't you troubled by the fact that there is no backup for the GPS?
"Some clients are troubled by that fact. We have solutions for that issue, too. I launch the rocket and over one third of its trajectory it is GPS-guided. After that, it is jammed, so the accuracy is not significantly degraded."
Do you work with other satellite systems?
"Yes, we work with GLONASS. We have already supplied GLONASS-based systems to some clients, and we also offer the option of a dual system – GPS and GLONASS."
Who purchased your Extra rocket?
"Several clients have already purchased Extra rockets, mainly from former USSR republics. Seeing this rocket hit a barrel target at a range of 150 kilometers is amazing. It carries 120 kilograms of smartness. 31,000 high-precision fragments with a tremendous damage effect that penetrates even 80 centimeters of masonry."
According to Eli Reiter, "We are a system house, and as we have a launcher and a rocket, we can extend into sea and land applications and come up with complete, end-to-end systems with everything we can offer.
"Regarding the sea medium, several naval forces have shown interest in the systems we offer, including shore-to-sea fire systems. The cost-effectiveness we offer in this medium is simply excellent. Organizations that were willing to spend tens of millions of dollars on a single missile now receive measures from us at one tenth of the cost and with very high accuracy rates. We offer high quality, effective warheads with excellent accuracy. Naval fire systems that launch their munitions to the shore can bypass the coastal defense systems.
"Additionally, we offer coastal defense systems. We have already supplied such systems to the Philippines. The system consists of a UAV (in this case, the Orbiter UAV by Aeronautics), Radars (by IAI's Elta Division), a command center (by H. Mer), a launcher, communication and command and control over the missile during its flight, all the way to impact (by Elbit Systems)."
Can you attack both static and moving targets at sea from the shore?
"Yes. You can hit a boat and any other point at sea."
Are these systems relevant to the task of protecting off-shore energy installations?
"They can be relevant to anything. For example, as a weapon against enemy naval vessels we are currently developing a warhead that detonates in the air above the vessel and then hits all of the vessel's parts."
"In the field of tube artillery we are working on smoke shells and on a new 'super high explosive' shell. This shell is based on a new technology: we deliver the shell to a point above the target, where it opens a parachute and initiates ejection," Reiter reveals.
"In this way, we deliver a controlled fragmentation shell that inflicts more substantial damage. We are still developing it. I hope we can complete the process within a year. It corresponds with our business strategy – to present products that would offer a higher cost-effectiveness ratio."
Can you take into account, somewhere in the future, a combination between a super high explosive shell and a highly accurate fuse, in the context of a project developed jointly by IMI and Rokar?
"Yes, this is our intention. I am currently working on the issue of who we are going to cooperate with in this story – either Rokar or IAI. Both industries want to cooperate with us in the development of a super high explosive shell that would also be highly accurate – not a mere statistical weapon."