Gabriel announced for PTO2020

The decision on one of the most important weapon systems for the Finnish Navy has become public today with the surprise announcement that Israeli Aircraft Industries’ Gabriel has been chosen for the PTO 2020-contract. The PTO 2020 will be the main ship-killing weapon of the Navy, being used on the Hamina-class FAC and the Pohjanmaa-class corvettes (Squadron 2020) as well as from truck-mounted batteries ashore. As such, it will replace the current MTO 85M (the RBS15 SFIII, a customised RBS15 MkII). This also effectively kills alls speculation that there would be a joint anti-shipping weapon operated by the Navy and by the Air Force, as there seems to be no air-launched version available for fast jets.

First a short discussion regarding the designations: IAI never mention Gabriel on their homepage, but they do market the Advanced Naval Attack Missile, and most sources agree that this is the Gabriel V. The odd one out is CSIS, which lists two versions of the Gabriel V, of which the ANAM is a shorter-legged and newer version of the original Gabriel V, which instead is designated Advanced Land Attack Missile. Also, the version of Gabriel bought is not publicly confirmed by the Finnish MoD, but there’s few possibilities. My working hypothesis is that while there might be slightly different versions the missile most commonly described by the Gabriel 5 / Advanced Naval Attack Missile designations is in fact the one bought by the Finnish Defence Forces.

Screenshot 2018-07-06 at 10.10.03
Probable Gabriel V launch from a Sa’ar 5-class corvette during Israeli SINKEX in 2016. Screenshot: IDF exercise video

Looking at the field, it was clear from the get-go that the big dividing line was between the IIR-seeker of the NSM compared to the traditional radar seekers of the rest of the field. Coupled with the stealthy body of the missile, this allows the NSM a completely passive approach. The phrase “they never knew what hit them” has never been truer. However, the world of physics also dictate that IIR-seekers perform worse in adverse weather conditions (snow, rain, fog, …) compared to radar ones, a serious drawback for any weapon designed to operate in the northern parts of the Baltic Sea. While Kongsberg always claimed that the NSM offers true all-weather capability, it has remained impossible to judge the true differences based on open sources. Also, the Finnish Defence Forces is known as being somewhat conservative when adopting new technology, preferring evolution over revolution. This became evident once again with the decision to opt for the tried and tested radar seeker, and notably stealth isn’t as important for a sea-skimming missile were detection ranges are extremely short.

The Gabriel has an interesting history. A month after the end of the Six Day War in 1967 the Israeli (ex-Royal Navy) Z-class destroyer was attacked without warning by three P-15 Termit anti-ship missiles from an Egyptian Project 183R Komar-class vessel sitting inside the harbour of Port Said. While tactical lessons of a WWII-vessel being hit by three missiles fired from inside a port basin might be discussed, it was clear for the IDF that a modern anti-ship missile was needed, and the Navy took over the failed Luz-program of surface-to-surface missile to produce what became the first version of the Gabriel. This proved to be an excellent weapon in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, where the Israeli Navy was the sole service branch to completely sweep the floor with the enemy.

The Gabriel missile was already once on its way out. Here the launcher of INS Mivtach, an ex-Israeli FAC currently a museum ship in Haifa which originally sported the Gabriel but changed to Harpoon from 1984 to its decommissioning in 1996. Source: Own picture

Development of the Gabriel continued, but by the mid-80’s the Harpoon was being introduced in Israeli service, and it looked like it spelled the end of the indigenous weapon. However, in a country famous for resurrections, death should never be taken for granted, and by the early years of the new millennium analysts where starting to question why Israel wasn’t upgrading their stocks to the new RGM-84L standard. Rumours started spreading about a new weapon being development.

The exact specifications of the Gabriel V are shrouded in secrecy, but it seems to be built according to generally the same form factors as the Harpoon. The first relatively confirmed sighting of the new weapon came two years ago, when a SINXEX involved the Israeli Navy firing a Harpoon followed by a new weapon. The stills are blurry to say the least, which seems to indicate a faster launch speed and/or worse camera than used to shoot the corresponding Harpoon launch. Another one of the few publicly available pictures/renders is found in this video, where an unspecified anti-ship missile is available as part of the IAI Skimmer-package for maritime helicopters. An air intake below the missile fuselage is found on the helicopter video but not visible upon launch in the SINKEX, but might be retractable or specific to the air-launched version.

A twin launcher for the original Gabriel with the carachteristic twin X-array of fins. The first generations of the missiel bear nothing but the name in common with the missile now acquired by the Finnish Defence Forces. Source: Own picture

On their homepage, IAI offers a few choice insights into the weapon. It does sport and active radar seeker, and while Israel has no archipelago whatsoever, they are situated close to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes with the number of civilian and neutral vessels vastly outnumbering those of potential targets at any given time. This means that the missile should feel right at home in the Baltic Sea. The weapon also reportedly “copes with rapidly evolving tactical situation”, which can only mean that it sports a datalink.
It also “penetrates hard-kill defenses”, which likely is a cover phrase for end-phase maneuvering. From the video of the SINKEX the impact point low on the hull is visible, though it is impossible to tell whether the missile shown impacting the tanker is in fact the Harpoon or the Gabriel. On the cutaway it is evident that the weapon has a jet engine.

The size of the warhead is unclear. RBS15 sports an impressive 200 kg warhead, while Exocet sports a 165 kg one, the Harpoon ER has shifted down from a 220 kg to a 140 kg warhead, with NSM also having a 120 kg one. The question of what kind of destructive firepower is needed for the Navy to effectively stop the Baltic Fleet short in their tracks is an interesting one. In short, 200 kg of explosives going off won’t send a frigate or destroyer-sized target to the bottom of the Baltic Sea. A good example here is the attack on the Iranian 1,100 ton frigate Sahand. which was hit by five 220 kg warheads (including three Harpoons) and cluster bombs, and still floated for hours before fires reached the magazines of the ship. A common theme is that fires might however prove troublesome, as was seen with both the Swift, hit by an Iranian C-802 near Yemen, and the HMS Sheffield hit by a single Exocet in the Falklands war. In both cases the ensuing fires caused significantly more damage than the warheads themselves. In the case of the Sheffield, the warhead seems to have failed to detonate, but the impact put the main firefighting systems out of action, severely hampering the fire-fighting effort.

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Probable Gabriel V in the leftmost picture. Screenshot from IAI marketing video

If I had to take a guess, the warhead size of the Gabriel is likely closer to 120 than 200 kg. However, it can be argued that A) vessels need not be sunk to be effectively put out of action, and B) the majority of the vessels of the Baltic Fleet are relatively small compared to blue water ships such as destroyers. Also, modern warheads do pack a larger punch compared to similarly sized ones dating back to the 80’s. All in all, the choice to downsize from the current warhead size probably wasn’t a major factor in deciding the lethality of the Finnish Navy

One thing that has potentially been seen as an issue for the Gabriel has been the lack of shore-based systems. While the technical difficulties of creating a new launching system by mounting the tubes on a truck aren’t overwhelming, the certification process still will require some additional funding. Apparently this still fit within the given cost/capability brackets, especially as the MoD states that the deciding factors have been “performance vis-à-vis acquisition costs and schedule, lifecycle costs and security of supply, and compatibility with existing infrastructure and defence system”. Notably the maintenance will be done in Finland.

The Gabriel was decidedly something of an underdog, but it is clear that the Navy went into the project with an open mind and looking for the best option instead of just continuing in the tried and tested tracks of the next RBS15. Following the Polish and German export orders for the RBS15, diversifying the anti-ship missiles of the western countries around the Baltic Sea is also a good thing, as this makes it harder for the Baltic Fleet to optimise countermeasures.

INS Haifa (S322) firing an early Gabriel. Source: Nir Maor via Wikimedia Commons

The weapon also has a secondary land-attack capability, although the damage of the comparatively light warhead deals to any kind of hard target isn’t too impressive and the missile comes with a relatively hefty price tag. It could potentially have a role in taking out soft high-value targets, such as the kind of long-range radar systems. This demonstrates another case of a Finnish defence program moving into what the US likes to call ‘cross-domain’. In other words, joint capabilities where the ground, naval, and air domains interact over the boundaries to support each other either through kinetic effect or by providing targeting data for each other. As such, it does provide another part of the Finnish deterrence picture, further strengthening the ability of the Finnish Defence Forces to hit targets at long-ranges (most sources seem to agree upon at least 150 km range).

Imagine the following scenario: an HX-fighter identifies an enemy brigade headquarter being temporarily set up in the terrain close to highway E18, outside of the range of the Army’s long-range multiple rocket launchers. The maritime threat level is however low, and the Navy dispatches two Hamina-class FAC’s which in a few hours travel from their hiding locations near Örö, to take up positions west of Suomenlinna within the air defence umbrella created by the Army’s ground-based SAM systems covering the capital. From there they fire a salvo of PTO 2020’s, which strike the target 150 km east, not necessarily putting it out of action but dealing severe damage to it. While the missiles are still in the air, the Haminas retreat back to the safety of the cluttered archipelago, stopping for a refill of missiles at one of the several smaller ports found along the Finnish coastline. The whole operation is over well within 24 hours from that the fighter first spotted the target. That is cross-domains fires and joint capabilities.

16 thoughts on “Gabriel announced for PTO2020

    1. Nope, that is something which almost looks like a Harpoon, but if you look closely and compare it to the Harpoon launch shot earlier in the video this is something else. The vessel might be a Sa’ar 4.5, they have the same top part of the superstructure.

  1. Franck

    Surprising development! I don’t remember reading on your website or elsewhere that IAI’s Gabriel anti-ship missile was part of the bidders to replace the RBS15.

    Does this means IAI is also bidding for other important contract of the Pohjanmaa project (such as Barak-8 SAM and EL/M-2248 radar) ?

  2. Valium

    I don’t know about our plans and positionings of the land based missiles, but they would be better suited for the scenario you mention. A battery situated in Loviisa area would reach Kronstadt, and most of Kannas and Inkerinmaa (150 km). Plenty of high value targets even for a light missile there 🙂 and as the Gabriel V according to some sources has range of 200 km or more, so the battery could be hidden further, to a relatively comfortable distance of over 80 km from the current border.

    And what is light? Armys long awaited ground attack GMLRS warhead is 90 kg, about half the weight and range of Gabriel. Even ATACMS unitary warhead would have been 230 kg, so not so light after all.

    I don’t actually have any other reason for having 100 launch tubes for naval targets with the state of neighbors navy. Unless the scenario is the very unlikely, but oh so classic us vs. russians single combat – with the addition of them moving more ships to Baltic. In a case where MTOs are being fired russian navy is propably mostly forced to trying to survive in harbours

  3. halken

    I think it could be a good choice. The Russians know the US weapons and may have countermeasures for the most popular such as the harpoon missile. However Gabriel does not fit in the VLS as the NSM does and hence compromises low observability, if they are placed on the deck like the harpoons, and the NSM already comes truck-mounted.
    The LRASM-A could also be a good choice, 400kg warhead, air launch and VLSmk41 compatible, but I would assume it is quite expensive, and they have not made the hyper sonic version B yet. The Russians has a super sonic anti ship missiles and while stealth is fine, it is difficult to deal with a treat that eliminates the time you have to act on it. For these missiles travel one mile per second, so 600 miles in ten minutes and due to the curvature of the earth, on a good day the target may have 30-60 seconds to respond from detection (60 miles-100km). But it seems that the US has become aware of their hyper sonic gap with the Chinese and Russians and started some development again in this field, but there is no data on when the LRASM-B or similar missile would be ready for deployment. It would also be a expensive weapon.

    Any news on the radar and AAW side? If they want a better radar than the the Sea Giraffe, they could look into the Australian CEAFAR2, which is in use on the Aus frigates with the Saabs CMS system and SM2 missiles. It may or may not fit on such a small ship.

  4. Daniel Wilson

    As an old Coast Artillery man I’m intrigued by the lack of an existing truck-mounted system for the Gabriel. Does this mean a) They don’t really care about this aspect, or b) The truck version will be a groundbreaking “killer app”, versatile and useful against land and sea targets alike?

      1. the idf never believed in coastal artillery we had some ww2 artillery from the british in the 50’s

        in the 60’s we fully transitioned to torpedo and missile boats for coastal operations

        don’t forget israel has offensive and versatility bias in weapons procurement

        and cosal ashm don’t fit the profile

        we fight on land like the british we fight in the sky like the americans we fight at sea like germans

      2. Daniel Wilson

        Good points! Coast artillery is almost gone here too, but has made sense in Finland for geographical reasons. An aggressor attempting a landing on the coast must pass through narrow lanes where he will be spotted and targeted. And Finland’s military posture has traditionally been very defensive so fixed artillery did fit in nicely there.

        On an open coast with deep water all round it’s a different story as the enemy has ample room to maneuver. Although Denmark has fielded the Harpoon mounted on trucks.

        Also, if the Gabriel indeed has a range of 400km you can reach wide enough for most of our defensive needs. Plus a truck-mounted battery can’t be beaten in terms of bang-for-the-buck and is very easy to hide from the enemy’s spying eyes.

  5. Setaman

    I think Gabriel can classify its target and avoid civilian ships. Doppler radar maybe, or aesa. Or SAR radar.

    NSM must be too expensive like everything in Norway.

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