In the face of Teheran's continued efforts to obtain nuclear capability, the Israel Air Force conducted its 17th test of the newly upgraded Arrow 2 missile defense system on Tuesday. Officials said it was capable of intercepting an Iranian nuclear missile.
The Arrow interceptor was launched from the Palmahim Base at around 11 a.m. after the Blue Sparrow Missile - developed to mimic an Iranian Shihab 3 missile - was fired from an F-15 fighter jet over the Mediterranean Sea.
Tuesday's test was the first time a modified version of the Arrow 2 was launched and operated in conjunction with a new and more advanced model of the Green Pine radar system.
The high-powered American X-Band radar, deployed in the Negev Desert in late 2008 as a farewell gift from then-US president George W. Bush, also participated in the test and tracked the incoming target.
The test was conducted jointly by the IAF and the US Missile Defense Agency. Israel Aerospace Industries is developing the Arrow in cooperation with Boeing.
The Super Green Pine Radar - an integral part of the Arrow system - was first tested a year ago. In that test, the system also tracked a Blue Sparrow missile and, after locating and identifying it, related the information to the Arrow battery. However, an interceptor missile was not actually fired in that exercise.
The Blue Sparrow, developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, mimics a Shihab 3 ballistic missile, carrying a split warhead and with advanced radar-evading capabilities. The Shihabs in Iran's current arsenal do not possess such capabilities, but officials said that in this test, the Blue Sparrow impersonated a ballistic missile believed to be the type of threat Israel would face in the future.
"The Arrow technology is always improving, and we cannot forget that the enemy is also advancing with its capabilities," said Brig.-Gen. Daniel Milo, commander of the IAF's Air Defense Division. He added that the test had been held in poor visibility and that the interception had taken place at one of the more difficult spots along the Blue Sparrow's course.
Iran is working hard to increase the accuracy of its missiles. In November, it successfully test-fired the Sajjil, a solid-fuel, high-speed missile with a range of 2,000 km.
Solid fuel is a significant breakthrough because it increases accuracy and can be launched immediately without the need to fuel the rocket first. Iran also has a number of BM25 intercontinental missiles that it purchased at least four years ago from North Korea.
The Arrow is also effective against the Syrian Scud D, whose range encompasses the entire State of Israel and is capable of carrying nonconventional warheads.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was flying back to Tel Aviv from the Gaza border, hovered with his helicopter near Palmahim to watch the launch. Later, he said the test was another "achievement for Israel on its way to obtaining a multi-level missile defense system, starting with the Iron Dome to defend against short-range rockets, and to the Arrow."