The U.S. Army is arming its AH-64 Apache attack helicopters with an Israeli missile that will enable Apaches to hit targets without a line of sight.
The Spike NLOS (non-line-of-sight) missile will allow Apaches to remain safely behind cover – a hill or trees – while they guide the munition to the target.
The Spike NLOS uses electro-optical guidance – basically a camera – with both day and night vision. With a range of 25 kilometers (15.5 miles), the missile uses a wireless data link to connect to the firing platform. “Spike NLOS provides the gunner with the unique ability to attack targets at stand-off range with no line of sight,” according to manufacturer Rafael’s product sheet. “The Spike NLOS weapon system can be operated in either direct attack or mid-course navigation based on target coordinates only. These modes enable the defeat of long-range hidden targets with pinpoint precision, damage assessment and the obtaining of real-time intelligence.”
A Defense News journalist witnessed a U.S. Army test of the Apache-Spike combination at the Yuma Proving Ground in August 2019. “The test shots were performed in challenging terrain. The AH-64 hid behind 1,600 feet of craggy mountain and took take aim at a target representing a Russian Pantsir medium-range, surface-to-air missile system on the opposite slope. In the shot witnessed by Defense News, the Apache flew just a couple of hundred feet above the highest obstacle in the desert when the missiles were fired.
“The missiles hit every target across nine total shots used to evaluate the system. The last missile firing resulted in the weapon hitting a moving target in the dark.”
Spike NLOS is part of a family of Spike missiles, including the shoulder-fired Spike SR anti-tank missile, the Spike LR2 with a range of three miles and the Spike ER2 with a range of 6 to 10 miles. Spike missiles are used by 33 nations, with 30,000 missiles sold, according to Rafael.
Why is the U.S. Army buying an Israeli missile? It’s a temporary solution while the Army grapples with how to equip its attack helicopters with stand-off missiles and drones. The increasing lethality and proliferation of sophisticated air defense systems is a powerful incentive for helicopters to keep as much distance as possible from their targets, just as deadlier anti-aircraft systems spurred the development of glide bombs and other stand-off weapons for fixed-wing strike aircraft.
“The Army is moving forward to address a much-desired capability, particularly when considering how the service will fight in the future where greater stand-off to go up against enemy targets is paramount to successful operations,” Defense News noted.
The push for stand-off weapons for its helicopters is part of a broader Army push for longer-range weapons, especially given fears that Russia’s arsenal of artillery and tactical missiles outranges their American counterparts. For example, the Army’s Precision Strike Missile project aims to develop a missile with a range of about 300 miles.