The US and Israel have for the first time involved six air defense systems in a single computer-simulated rocket and missile defense drill, security officials said Thursday.
During the ongoing Juniper Cobra 2016 exercise, which began two weeks ago in Israel, the US European Command (EUCOM) integrated the command and control systems of the Aegis Combat system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, and Patriots, while Israel plugged in systems from its Arrow-3, David’s Sling, and Iron Dome defenses.
These systems were linked to simulators, officials said, though the US did not deploy its ship-based interceptors, and there is no live-fire stage in the drill.
The drill is the first to include David’s Sling, “which will become operational this year,” and is “an inseparable part” of Israeli air defenses, an Israeli security source said.
He added that “we are very close” to making Arrow-3, which intercepts ballistic missiles in space, operational.
EUCOM sent 1,700 air, marine, navy and army personnel to Israel, while 1,500 Israel Air Force members took part in the exercise, which is being run out of joint control centers.
The US government has built permanent infrastructure for US personnel to work out of in Israel.
“This is the highest priority exercise for the EUCOM in 2016, an American defense official said.
The Israeli source added, “We are increasing our readiness for projectile threats. Arsenals are growing larger around us. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at Gaza or the northern arena. The projectile vector is the main effort the other side is preparing. They will try to challenge us. We are in a race. The enemy is learning, and we are, too.”
Rockets from Gaza can hit northern cities like Haifa, while Hezbollah’s rockets in Lebanon can strike the southern city of Beersheba, the source warned, meaning that borders are blurring when it comes to air defenses. Additionally, Hezbollah is receiving precision-guided rockets and has accurate drone capabilities.
Future scenarios will be “more complex than the Second Lebanon War and Operation Protective Edge. Even if we double the amount of air defense systems and interceptors, there will be no hermetic defense of Israel. Our job is to minimize the damage, and protect significant assets. We can’t intercept everything,” the source said.
In a real conflict, the Israeli government would have to make a request to the US president to mobilize US ship-based air defenses for Israel.
During a press conference held at Hatzor airbase near Ashdod, the US commander of the exercise, Lt.-Gen. Timothy M. Ray, said, “This is a combined ballistic mission exercise. We have improved interoperability by exercising missile defenses.”
Ray is commander, Third Air Force, and is also the Joint Task Force commander, meaning that he has direct command of all US military personnel in Israel.
Brig.-Gen. Zvika Haimovich, commander of the IAF’s Aerial Defense, said, “We will be better prepared after his drill, in the face of a changing reality.”