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By Ami Dor-On
The ‘Federation of American Scientists’ revealed back in 2002 that a missile of 6.5 meters in length had been successfully tested off the coast of Sri Lanka. The tested missile could reach a range of 1500 km and was capable of carrying a nuclear plutonium based warhead weighing 200 Kg. The test was conducted in the presence of American observers. The U.S. has since purchased 200 missiles of this kind from Israel for installation on heavy bombers like the B-52.
The Israeli cruise missile ‘Popeye Turbo’ designed as a Submarine-Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM) is a stretched and advanced model of the “Popeye” Israeli air missile designed for bomber planes. According to a report by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) in 2002 an experiment was conducted in which an early model of the missile was launched from a Dolphin submarine in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sri Lanka. The test was viewed at the time by members of the U.S. Navy’s intelligence. According to the report the missile was capable of reaching a range of 1,500 km and could carry a nuclear powered plutonium based warhead, weighing 200 Kg.
The Turbo SLCM cruise-missile uses a jet engine powered by liquid fuel. The missile’s length is 6.25 meters and its diameter is about 52 cm. According to what was reported by the FAS about the Sri Lanka test – the missile hit the target 1500 km from the launch pad. It is estimated that the cruise missile is the main weapon for Israel’s ‘second strike’ ability, launched from submarines.
The story behind the development of this missile and its unique properties opened the gates for Israel into the U.S. market, which went on to acquire more than 200 cruise missiles of the latest model. That acquisition testified more than anything else about the extraordinary technological capabilities of scientists in Israel.
The Birth of the initial model of the missile (called ‘Hamudon or Cutey’) was an operational necessity. During the War of Attrition (“Hahatasha”), in 1969, four Israeli Air Force aircraft were shot down by Egyptian anti-aircraft batteries in one day. As a result, a former Air Force commander pushed for the development of a TV-driven, remote, air-to-ground missile that could hit and wipe out hostile anti-aircraft batteries.
The design process took a very long time and its implementation demanded a high level of operational requirements which required massive resources. For this reason Rafael decided to produce a relatively inexpensive practical interim solution in the form of a ‘slider bomb’ known as TADMIT (“image”) which was equipped with a TV homing head.
The first model of an operational missile was provided to the Israeli Air Force at the end of 1974. Tadmit missiles played a crucial role in the destruction of the Syrian air defense system in Lebanon. The head of the project at that time was Dr. Aaron Gil. Dr. Joseph Levine took over the project in 1979 and continued in that position until it ended in 1985.
The ‘Popeye Turbo’ as an operational missile was introduced into the Israeli Air Force service in 1985 and was nicknamed ‘Hanit Na’a’ (‘Nice Spear’). Knowledge of the missile’s success spread worldwide and in 1989 the U.S. Air Force purchased 154 missiles of this model. In 1996 the U.S. acquired an additional 54 missiles for ’Just in case’ purposes. The missiles were modified for the B-52 heavy bombers in joint cooperation between Rafael and Lockheed Martin.
Following the American purchases, the missile was also bought by the Australian Air Force for its F-111 bombers. In terms of the manufacture of the missile a major business breakthrough took place in 1997 when Israel and Turkey signed a commercial agreement worth $ 500 million for the joint production of the Popeye and Popeye Turbo missiles by the Turkish Aerospace Industries plants.
Since entering operational use, the missile has been modified with many design improvements aimed at increasing its reliability while reducing its cost. One of the improvements was the addition of enhanced infrared imaging detectors. Using this detector installed at the top of the missile, the operator of the cruise control system could direct the missile to the target with great precision in the final stage before the strike.
According to American intelligence experts, it is estimated that the current ‘Popeye Turbo’ SLCM missile was built and optimized for launch by the latest model of the Israeli Navy’s Dolphin class submarine. The U.S. intelligence assessment is that the Dolphin submarines have six 533 mm diameter torpedo launchers and four 650 mm diameter missile launchers.