One of the IAF’s deadliest weapons is a weapon that started out on the ground. The “Tammuz” (Spike) missiles are assembled on the force’s combat helicopters and are launched towards different targets in complex scenarios. This is the story of a lesson from the 1973 Yom Kippur War that led to the creation of a sophisticated missile that manages to hit exactly whom or what it is intended to hit
Shir Aharon Bram
Gaza Strip, mid-2000s
“We decided to hit terrorist infrastructure located in a building with three entrances. We had to hit each entrance with a missile in the most precise way possible because the building was surrounded by buildings inhabited by many innocent civilians. At first, Apache helicopters that were equipped with certain weapons were sent but because the helicopters had to get really close in order to launch, the terrorists heard them in the building and escaped in the nick of time”, explains Lieutenant Colonel (res.) A’, former commander of the Weapons Division and a pilot in “The First Combat” helicopter squadron.
“So, there was an understanding that we had to use weapons that could strike from afar, without warning and with a very high degree of accuracy. The Tammuz missile is ideal for this goal: it’s quiet, long-range and precise. We went out in a flying formation consisting of three Cobra helicopters and we reached the target, the missiles were launched towards the target and hit with 100% accuracy, each missile hitting the entrance at which it was fired. Mission Accomplished”.
Top Secret Weapon
Like many other Israeli weapons, the Tammuz was also developed after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, during which the IDF faced the Syrian and Egyptian armored forces. On the Sinai and Golan Heights fronts, enemy tanks swept across the areas and this trauma became a central focus in the conclusions and lessons of the war, changed the army’s perceptions and brought about the insight that a solution was need to counter charging armored forces.
With this in mind, “Rafael” Advanced Defense Technologies developed a new, advanced missile, called “Tammuz”, that made use of unique technology and its initial goal was the destruction of armored enemy targets day and night, at a fast pace and with high power.
Even the existence of the missile is kept secret in order to surprise the enemy during the next war and hit the approaching tanks before they even reach the front. But the decades that have passed since the 1973 War brought about a drop in the threat tank-warfare, while the terror threat has grown. With the changing of the operational targets, the purpose of the Tammuz has expanded, been adjusted and more advanced versions of the missile have been developed.
The updated missile is equipped with warheads intended to be used against targets other than tanks and has come into use against quality targets such as rocket launching squads, enemy buildings, vehicles and others.
A Backwards Look
So, what makes the Tammuz so special and what features make it such a deadly, effective weapon? It is a missile from the electro-optic family of missiles. Without going into complicated, technical explanations, it can be said that it “sees” the target and using advanced technology it transmits it back, that is to say the operator of the missile sees the target on the display and can navigate the missile based on the pictured transmitted in real time. The operator has automatic and manual navigation options that allow him to control it with a high degree of accuracy.
“If the operator is a professional, he can even launch the Tammuz into a specific window of a building and hit the specific target within a few centimeters of accuracy. You can say without hesitation that it is one of the best combat helicopter missiles in the world in terms of capability, accuracy, range and performance under limited conditions”, explains Lieutenant Colonel (res.) A’, one of the most experience Tammuz operators in the world, who has a rich history of operational use of missiles, as well as training in launching from airborne platforms.
Over the years, the Tammuz missiles have taken part in wars and operations, both famous and obscure and have been launched from combat helicopters during the Second Intifada, during operation “Defensive Shield” and the Second Lebanon War. Even today, IAF helicopter launch Tammuz missiles towards hostile targets.
“The missile is ideal for use from a helicopter, because it can be launched from a low point and there is no need to make eye contact with the target. Using the camera, the operator can direct the missile, while the helicopter that launches it remains at a comfortable and safe distance that is relatively large. This is a missile that is capable of carrying out many missions that other missiles cannot even approach”, explains Major Tamir, commander of the advanced training course for combat helicopters in the IAF. “You can control the missile throughout the flight and because it is a sophisticated system, it has extensive training and its own special simulator for launching the Tammuz from combat helicopters. Aircrew members acquire high level skills in using the missile”.
At The Last Moment
An event that occurred during the Second Lebanon War, demonstrates the advanced capabilities of the missile. “I was in the air, over the sea between Tyre and Sidon, waiting for the order. I was quickly contacted by headquarters and given a target: a vehicle on the road between Tyre and Sidon and I had to hit it as soon as possible. As soon as I was within launching range, I shot a Tammuz missile towards the target”, explains Colonel (res.) Tzvika, a former pilot in the “First combat” helicopter squadron. “From afar, the vehicle looked like a small target but as the missile approached the target, I identified it better until it was very clear. A moment before it hit, I saw through the camera the word “TV” on the car’s side, meaning that the vehicle belonged to the media or to journalists and when I received the orders I wasn’t told that the vehicle would be marked that way. I had exactly a second to decide what I would do and I decided not to take the risk of hitting civilians. At the last moment, I moved the missile and I didn’t hit the car”. Shortly thereafter, Colonel (res.) Tzvika made contact with headquarters and reported what he saw through the camera. He was told that the issue was known and to hit the car despite the marking.
“After the second order, I fired another missile towards the car and I destroyed it. When I returned to the squadron after the attack I decided to delve deeper into the subject and I checked intelligence information. It turned out that they tracked the car for several days and it turned out a Hezbollah commander of the region was traveling in the car. I discovered that they did not inform me about the camouflage in the form of a press vehicle because at headquarters no one imagined that the missile camera would reach such a high level of visibility and accuracy”.
The video of the missile camera in which the pilot can be seen deflecting the missile at the last moment when he sees the markings on the car, became famous around the world as an example of the IAF’s dedication to avoiding hitting innocent bystanders.