Israel is in the process of developing the world's first air defense system dedicated to intercepting hypersonic missiles, which poses a significant challenge to Russia and Iran.
In the light of a recent statement made by the Commander of Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, claiming Iran has developed its first hypersonic ballistic missile, “Fattah”, the Israeli defense firm “Rafael” has begun working on the «Sky Sonic» system, specifically designed to counter hypersonic missiles that travel at five times the speed of sound in the upper atmosphere. The system aims to intercept various types of hypersonic threats, including ballistic and cruise missiles. A CGI video demonstration provided by “Rafael” showcased an interceptor missile launched from the ground, with its warhead detaching and targeting an incoming missile.
“Rafael” has stated that the «Sky Sonic» system will soon undergo flight tests, but no specific schedule has been provided for its readiness. While the Israeli military has not commented on the announcement, the Pentagon has been briefed on the topic. This development indicates the potential for a new era of European air defense, with Israel playing a prominent role. However, as the system is still under development and Israel is hesitant to offer military support to Kyiv, it is unlikely to be deployed in Ukraine in the near future.
Both Russia and Iran have increased the production of hypersonic missiles, claiming they cannot be intercepted. This poses a significant defense challenge for Israel, Ukraine, and their allies. Russia's “Kinzhal” hypersonic missiles have already been used against Ukrainian cities, while Iran's new "Fattah" missile has been pointed at Tel Aviv, potentially as a deterrent against Israeli strikes on Iran's nuclear program. Iran is also sending missiles and drones to Moscow, likely for use against Ukraine, while receiving powerful Russian fighter jets that could be employed against Israel.
The conflict in Ukraine, along with Russia's use of Iranian drones, has shifted European priorities and created opportunities for deeper engagement with Israel as a security partner. Despite concerns over Israel's actions against Palestinians, many European capitals prioritise national security interests. Israeli experts suggest that while Russian hypersonic missiles are effective, they are not game-changers based on recent war results. They view the missiles as another means to target infrastructure or harm civilians. As Israel worries about Russia's military support for Iran, it resists pressure from the United States to arm Kyiv or provide access to its Iron Dome air defense system. Israel is concerned about the potential persecution of its large Jewish population in Russia if relations deteriorate, and Russia controls much of the airspace over neighboring Syria, where Israel frequently conducts airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias.
In a separate development, Germany's defense committee has approved a payment of €3.99 billion for Israel's Arrow 3 air defense system, which can intercept missiles above the atmosphere and provide air cover to neighboring EU member states. The funds were allocated from Chancellor Olaf Scholz's defense package aimed at strengthening German security after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Rafael”, known for its Iron Dome missile defense system, is also responsible for the development of David's Sling, a similar system successfully used during the recent conflict between Israel and Islamic Jihad. Although Israel already possesses defense systems capable of intercepting hypersonic missiles, none have been specifically tailored to address this specific threat. In response to Iran's recently unveiled hypersonic missile, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated that Israel has an even better response to such developments, without providing further details. While Iran's “Fattah” missile has not been used in battle yet, Ukrainian officials claimed that all six of Russia's “Kinzhal” hypersonic missiles fired at Ukraine in May 2023 were intercepted, suggesting that the weapon's capabilities may have been exaggerated.