“On May 9, 2018, the Quds force, a special force wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, stationed in Syria, shot 20 rockets towards IDF posts in the Golan Heights. The IDF intercepted four of the rockets, preventing casualties and damage. This is the first time that Iranian forces have directly fired at Israeli troops.
In response, in the night on May 10, 2018, IDF fighter jets (mainly F-16I Sufa aircraft according to most sources even though the official IAF website’s release on the attack shows also a file photo of an F-15I) struck several military targets in Syria that belonged to Iran’s Quds force. “The IDF’s wide-scale attack included Iranian intelligence sites, the Quds force logistics headquarters, an Iranian military compound in Syria, observation and military posts, et cetera. In spite of a warning from Israel, Syrian aerial defense forces fired towards the IAF aircraft as they conducted the strikes. In response, the IAF targeted several aerial interception systems (SA5, SA2, SA22, SA17) which belong to the Syrian Armed Forces. All of the IDF’s fighter jets returned to their bases safely.”
Among the targets hit by the Israeli combat planes there is also a Pantsir-S1 (SA-22 according to the NATO designation) as shown in the following footage.
The Pantsir-S1 is a Russian-built advanced, self-propelled combined gun/missile system that is made mobile on 8×8 trucks. The transportable gun/SAM system includes up to 12 surface-to-air missiles arranged into two 6-tube groups on the turret, and a pair of 30mm cannon.
The SA-22 was destroyed from what, based on the type of aircraft reportedly involved in the air strikes, the range of the missile and similar footage available online, seems to be a Delilah missile (actually, there is someone that suggested the missile might have been a Spike NLOS, but the use of a standoff missile seems much more likely).
The Delilah is a cruise missile developed in Israel by Israel Military Industries (IMI), built to target moving and re-locatable targets with a CEP of 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) at a maximum range of 250 km.
The best description of the cruise missile comes from the IAF website:
In terms of its structure, the Delilah is almost identical to a typical air-to-ground missile. The front section includes the homing parts, which in the first models were televisional. Thus, the head of the missile includes an antenna for general guidance towards its target. The next section holds the various electronic parts including guidance systems and flight control. The part behind this holds the warhead and fuel supply. The final section is made up of a jet engine capable of producing 165 pounds of thrust and the control surfaces that turn the missile towards its target.
Examining the technical data alone raises the question of why the Delilah is considered such an important missile. After all, there are missiles capable of flying further and faster and carrying warheads many times larger which are available on the global weapons market. The answer lies in the fact that the Delilah is seen more as a “loitering missile” than a cruise missile.
In general typical air-to-ground missiles are launched in the general direction of their target. A navigational system (such as GPS) takes them to the spot where intelligence indicates that the target lies. If the missile is autonomous (“fire and forget”) then the plane that launched it can simply leave. The missile flies towards the target. When it identifies it, it strikes it with the help of its final guidance system. When the target is not where it is expected to be, the missile is simply written off. An example of this sort of weapon is the US Tomahawk missile, at least in its early models.
When a missile is fitted with an electro-optic guidance system, it broadcasts an image of what is in front of it, back to the aircraft that launched it. The image from the homing device is shown on a special screen in the cockpit, usually facing the navigator’s chair in a two-seater aircraft. The navigator can send the missile instructions, and make small changes in its flight path. However, these changes can only take pace during a relatively short period of time, and are comparatively minor. From the moment that the missile begins its final approach, no changes can be made. The result is that although he has some control, the navigator is actually very limited. If a missile approaches a target, which at the last minute turns out to be moving, or the wrong target altogether, then the missile misses. Thus, there have been many events like the one in Yugoslavia in 1999 when an electro-optic bomb launched from a US combat airplane was launched at a bridge. Seconds before impact, a passenger train reached the bridge and all the navigator could do was watch in horror, knowing that many civilians would be killed. It is here that the Delilah’s unique ability enters the picture.
The Delilah’s operation is similar to what is described above; it, too, possesses a “Man in the Loop” mechanism, where the navigator controls the final direction of the missile. However, in the case of the Delilah there’s a key difference: as the missile makes the final approach, if the target has moved or if there’s a need to cancel the attack (for example, if civilians are spotted near the target), all the navigator needs to do is press a button in the cockpit which instructs the missile to abort its approach and return to linger. Thus, situations in which a missile is wasted on a target that has disappeared, or in which civilians are accidentally killed can be prevented. In the same way the use of a missile on a target that has already been destroyed can be prevented, saving valuable ammunition.
This is not the only value in the Delilah missile’s ability to linger. One can imagine a situation in which the target’s precise location is not known with any certainty, for example if it is a portable anti-aircraft launcher or land-land missile launcher. In this case the Delilah can be launched in the general direction of the target, based on intelligence reports. The missile would fly in the direction of the target, all the while surveying the territory with its homing equipment. The image appears in the cockpit, the Delilah serving effectively as a homing UAV. The Delilah patrols above the territory searching for its target. The missile’s long range can be exchanged for a prolonged stay in the air above the target. When the navigator identifies the target, or what is thought to be the target, he instructs the missile to fly towards it. If he has identified it correctly then the missile is directed to attack it. If he has not found the target then the missile is instructed to abort its approach and return to searching.
The Delilah missile’s ability to both loiter and carry out repeated passes makes it the ideal weapon for attacking mobile sites like rocket launches. Everyone recalls the difficulty the US Air Force faced during the 1992 Gulf War when it attempted to locate and destroy the Iraqi “Al-Hussein” rocket launcher that was used to fire at Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Americans knew roughly where the rockets were being launched from but had difficulty locating the launchers themselves. As a result fighter planes were sent for long patrols over western Iraq every night. On many occasions the Americans identified the point where the missile was launched from, but by the time a counter-strike had been arranged the missile launcher had left the scene. It’s in these sorts of operational profile that the Delilah performs best, perhaps better than any other weapons system. In these cases the Delilah can be launched towards the area intelligence expects the missiles to be launched from. The Delilah will fly above the area and search for missile launchers. When a launcher is identified, it will be immediately struck by the missile. If it’s discovered that the target has not been identified correctly, for example if it’s a dummy launcher or another vehicle that looks like a launcher (such as a petrol tanker), the missile receives the instructions to end its approach and continue to search for the real target.
“The Delilah is a system that can strike very precisely at critical, sensitive points from a great distance”, explains Brigadier General (reserve) Arieh Mizrachi, who was once CEO of IMI.”If we want to attack a command bunker, for example, and we know where it is situated and exactly which window we need to hit then we can do it. We can always make another approach and place the missile exactly where we want it. The extreme precision of the missile makes it possible for us to paralyze the enemy by striking their critical point. For example, if we send the missile through a window of a division’s control center, then no one will be left to give orders, and we’ll have silenced the whole division. It’s important to understand that the target does not need to be a large command center. The ‘Delilah’ lets us strike at the brain of the enemy, even if it’s a small mobile target like a command armored personnel carrier. Similarly, we can strike at a ship’s command center without needing to sink the whole ship. This holds true for many other kinds of target like airports, logistics centers and so on. The moment we identify the critical point, the Delilah lets us hit it”.
“The training needed to operate the Delilah lasts a few months, and because of its complex capabilities, not everyone successfully completes it”, explains First Lieutenant A., an F-16D navigator in the “Scorpion” Squadron who is trained on the Delilah. “The training process is long, complex and challenging. You start with simple scenarios, hitting a large target in open space, and advance to small targets that are located in densely populated areas”.
“Despite the intense cooperation between the pilot and the navigator, the fact remains that the missile is operated from the navigator’s cockpit. In the first stage you launch the missile and it flies towards the target you’ve given it. Later in the flight, you take control of the missile and direct it wherever you want. If you need to, you can press a button and the missile will loiter. The role of the pilot is to tell me when I’ve reach the point where I need to tell the missile to fly, and I can no longer tell it to continue to loiter”.
“Even though you are not physically in the same place as the missile, and in fact are far away, the whole time you feel that you are part of it. The fact that you can fly the missile wherever you want, whilst you yourself fly to an area that is not under threat, gives you safety”.
Anyway, here’s the footage:
As said, the Delilah is a standoff weapon: it means the aircraft can use it while remaining at safe distance.
As a side note, according to our sources, a KC-707 tanker that supported the F-16I. May 9, 2018, more or less when the jets were attacking the targets in Syria, a KC-707 was operating in the southern part of Israel.
We can’t be sure the tanker was supporting the raid (the fact an Israeli aircraft could be tracked online during a combat mission is somehow surprising), still worth a mention.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.