In face of Iran's efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, on Monday the Israeli Air Force successfully conducted its 16th test of the Arrow missile defense system, which officials said was capable of intercepting an Iranian nuclear missile. An improved Arrow missile, with modifications to its hardware and electronics, was successfully test-fired at 12:05 p.m. Monday afternoon at Palmahim Air Force Base south of Ashdod. The test, which took only one minute, cost close to NIS 15 million and was overseen by the Defense Ministry's Homa Missile Defense Agency. The purpose of Monday's test was to launch the missile in a fly-out (where a missile is fired without intercepting a target) and gather information on its flight and performance. The data will be evaluated by the Israel Aerospace Industries Arrow team, led by Yoav Turgeman, and applied to continued development. Turgeman told The Jerusalem Post that the improvements to the missile not only reduced manufacturing costs - by some 20 percent - but also improved its ability to intercept incoming ballistic threats. A senior defense official said that the Arrow was capable of intercepting all ballistic missiles currently capable of threatening Israel, including those in the hands of Iran and Syria. "The Arrow missile has proven its capabilities time after time," Arieh Herzog, head of the Homa missile defense agency, said. "The Arrow protects Israel from all ballistic missiles in the region," he said. Defense Minister Amir Peretz praised the successful launch, calling it "another stage" in the development of Israel's missile defense system that provided protection against long-range threats to Israel. The interceptor fired on Monday was the Arrow 2. The Defense Ministry is currently deliberating over the Arrow program and the development of Arrow 3. However, Israel does not at this stage intend to purchase missile defense systems developed and manufactured in the United States. According to a $78m. contract signed by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and Boeing in March 2004, Boeing supplies 35% of the Arrow's main components and subsystems, including the warhead's electrical system, the radar shell (radome), missile casing, and electronic subsystems. The last Arrow test was conducted successfully last month and for the first time intercepted an incoming rocket at night and at the highest-ever altitude. Defense officials stressed that the recent launches were part of periodic tests of the missile defense system, and were programmed to land in the Mediterranean Sea.

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