Popeye Turbo is the working code name for a secret Israel
i cruise missile
. The predecessor
is a fairly standard ASM
launched from aircraft with a range of perhaps 45-50 nautical mile
s; it is similar to the American Harpoon
missile except that it is powered by a rocket
motor rather than a turbojet engine
. The Popeye I and Popeye II were license-built in the United States and deployed by the USAF
as the AGM-142 Have Nap
and the Have Lite
, deployed on B-52
H aircraft. The Turbo
designation indicates a follow-on, larger size and longer ranged version of the weapon.
This missile made news in June 2000, when the London Sunday Times reported a successful Israeli test-firing of the system from a submarine in the Indian Ocean. While that in itself is not of much consequence, especially given the success of the earlier missiles, the test raised new questions because of two facts: One, the Popeye Turbo is thought to be capable of carrying at least a 200 kg. warhead, and two, the missile hit its target after a reported flight of 1,550 km. Given that Israel is known to have multi-kiloton nuclear warheads that weigh less than that payload, this, coupled with the submarine-launch characteristic of the missile, means that Israel has demonstrated a strategic second-strike capability from its submarines.
Unlike the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain - the other members of the submarine deterrence club - Israel's capability is quite limited. The Popeye Turbo is a horizontally-launched cruise missile, not a ballistic missile, meaning it is more vulnerable to interdiction; in addition, the German-made Dolphin submarines used by the IDF to launch the missiles are not nuclear-powered but are conventional Diesel boats. While this is irrelevant to the missile's performance, it means that the boats cannot venture out for deterrent patrols approaching the sixty to ninety-day standard time for U.S. SSBNs. However, as they have accepted delivery of at least three of these submarines from Germany, it is quite feasible to maintain an at-sea deterrent capability in time of crisis and, if they are willing to sacrifice operational area, for more extended periods of time. A deployment ratio of 3 (three boats for each boat on-station) is sustainable, if a bit low for extended comfort, and the Dolphins have a stated cruising endurance of 4,500 nautical miles - enough to allow them to traipse around the Eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean for quite some time.
In any case, the Popeye Turbo is a murky target; various analysts have stated its range to be anywhere from 215 to 900 nautical miles. There is little doubt that the three new Dolphin submarines are intended for a land-attack role, however; Israel apparently accelerated the delivery of the third and final submarine for 'securty reasons' involving the current crisis, presumably concerns that the Palestinian conflict could escalate and draw in regional Arab states. Originally developed (as were its predecessors) for air launch, the modification of the Popeye Turbo for submarine launch would not be difficult. Israel has hands-on experience with U.S. made Harpoon anti-shipping missiles, including the submarine-launched variety; these weapons would be launched in exactly the same fashion.
Israel asked the United States for a number of Tomahawk land-attack missiles in order to 'augment its deep strike capability' in January of 2000. This request was turned down, prompting Israel to publicly note that it would be forced to 'activate domestic industry' to produce this 'necessary segment' of its strike capabilities.
Jane's International Defense Review printed reports in late 1999 from German shipyard and military officials involved in the production and transfer of the Dolphin submarines that Israel was 'planning to equip them with a land-strike nuclear capability' as soon as they arrived. Those reports indicated that the Israelis would 'likely' utilize modified U.S. Sub-Harpoon missiles, with added nuclear warheads and domestically-produced replacement guidance systems. The successful test of the Popeye Turbo reported in mid-2000 meanst the this would probably not be necessary; the U.S. Sub-Harpoons would have a range of only approximately 80 nautical miles versus the longer reach of the newer missile.
In any case, there are no reliable sightings of and/or reports on this weapon in the field that are easily available to an unclassified researcher. However, the technologies involved are well within Israel's capabilities and, indeed, have been demonstrated in the past. The fact that this weapon will be the one to introduce a naval second-strike nuclear attack role to the Israeli Navy makes it a noteworthy system whatever its technical credentials.