Rafael combines AI and automatic target recognition in new Sea Breaker missile

JERUSALEM — Rafael Advanced Defense Systems unveiled its new Sea Breaker maritime and land-based long-range missile that combines artificial intelligence and decision-making algorithms to create a fifth-generation weapon system.

“Sea Breaker provides surgical, pin-point precision strikes from stand-off ranges of up to 300 km. It features an advanced IIR (Imaging Infra-Red) seeker, ideal for engagement of maritime and land targets, stationary or moving, in advanced Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) arenas, and in littoral or brown water, including archipelago, as well as for engagements in which previous generation RF-seeker-based missiles are not effective,” Rafael said in a statement June 30.

At an event showcasing the missile, which is several meters long and has swept wings that flip out after it is launched, Rafael executives and project managers for the system traced the missile back to Rafael precision-guided missiles and bombs, such as the Spice 250 and Spike NLOS.

Sea Breaker is intended for naval ships, such as frigates, and also land-based launchers. Rafael said it fits in its Spyder launchers, enabling a plug-and-play format that means air defense missiles can be stacked with Sea Breaker in the same battery. This kind of open architecture and plug-and-play model has been seen before with Rafael’s SkyCeptor, which can be used in a Patriot battery. Spyder is usually equipped with I-Derby and Python-5 missiles.

The new system includes a 250 lb (113kg) “penetration, blast and fragmentation warhead, making a single hit effective enough to neutralize a frigate-sized ship,” Rafael says. The 250-lb warhead size is similar to the Mark 81 bomb. “The missile’s datalink supports real-time man-in-the-loop decision-making and tactical updates. It also features a mid-flight abort capability and Battle Damage Assessment (BDA).” Eli, whose last name was not provided under Israeli custom for security reasons, the head of Rafael’s Naval Missile Systems, said the system’s unique capabilities include its computer vision and artificial intelligence, as well as its mission planning system. With evasive flight maneuvers and a large warhead for its less than 400kg size, it is “quite unique in those dimensions … it’s compact and compatible and I think the computer, the AI and ATR and computer vision is a novelty of the company combining it with man-in-the-loop, mission planning and agile flight profile.” It also performs “deep learning” that it combines with its AI capabilities.

A tactical missile designed to be deployed in salvos like an artillery battery with a low-flight ability and its automatic target recognition enables it to be “complete autonomous,” Rafael’s Naval Missile Systems head said. The need for better target recognition is important in environments with moving targets, such as a port where civilian and military ships might be in close quarters. This means a missile that has been fired from hundreds of kilometers away may need to quickly discriminate against a recognizable target, such as striking a gunboat and not hitting a similar-looking trawler. Rafael says the missile can also shift to a different target at the homing stage. The missile is designed for maritime targets and those near the shore, as well as headquarters and airports or other hardened targets. Eli says that given the constraints on board ships in terms of weight and displacement, having a dual purpose weapon is important.

Recent conflicts have shown that the ability to find high-quality targets is important. Radar-based seekers also alert an enemy and having a missile that can avoid electronic warfare measures and engage in a GPS-denied environment is a “solution that is better than everything else.” Recent conflicts also illustrated how major conventional wars with clear delimitations between opposing forces are no longer the norm. Instead, wars take place near civilians, and precision to avoid casualties is imperative. Rafael says it is already seeing interest from countries.

The developers emphasize that the future battlefield involves more GPS-denied environments and a greater need for missiles like this to be immune to electronic countermeasures with a 300-km range and for compact flexibility in how they can be put on trucks or ships. Rafael says that including AI, scene matching and automatic target recognition with electro-optics is what makes it a fifth-generation system.

Seth Frantzman has been covering conflict in the Middle East since 2010 as a researcher, analyst and correspondent for different publications. He has experience covering the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and he is a co-founder and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.

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