Israel surprised the defence world on Monday morning with the unannounced launch of its latest spy satellite, offering the state’s intelligence services their highest ever resolution camera.
The ‘Ofek 16’ satellite launched at 4am carrying an electro-optical sensing system that defence chiefs said would “enhance Israel’s strategic intelligence capability”.
Defence Minister and Prime Minister designate Benny Gantz paid tribute to the cooperation of several Israeli defence firms, including Israel Aerospace Industries the prime contractor, Elbit making the ‘Jupiter’ camera system, and Rafael and Tomer developing the launch engines.
The Ministry said: “The goal is to ensure that the Israeli satellite program will remain at the forefront of technological capabilities and will continue to produce advanced satellites, which will maintain Israel’s intelligence and technological superiority.”
Ofek 16 compliments a range of Israeli spy satellites already in orbit, including the oldest, Ofek 5, which launched in 2002, and Ofek 10, which launched in 2014 and uses radar, giving it night and weather-penetrating capabilities.
Ofek means ‘Horizon’ in Hebrew, and Ofek 16 will be operated by the IDF’s 9990 visual intelligence unit, which keeps an eye on Israel’s enemies. Chief among them is Iran which, along with Israel, is one of only 13 states capable of developing and launching their own spy satellites.
Russia and China have made strides in the space-based arms race recently by unveiling advanced land-based laser system that can target and disable spy satellites by “dazzling” or “blinding” the light-sensitive cameras in orbit.
Gantz said: “We will continue to strengthen and maintain Israel’s capabilities on every front, in every place.”