Months after its postponement, the largest-ever Israeli-American missile defense
drill is back on track with plans moving forward to hold the exercise by the end
of the year in face of Iran’s continued pursuit of a nuclear
Several days ago, Col. Stephen Richmond, commander of the
10th Army Air & Missile Defense Command at the European Command (EUCOM),
visited Israel to finalize plans for the upcoming drill, which is expected to
see the deployment of several thousand American soldiers in Israel.
drill, called Austere Challenge 12, was initially scheduled for April but was
surprisingly postponed by Israel in January under a variety of budgetary and
logistical claims. It is now scheduled for October.
The Defense Ministry
admitted at the time that Defense Minister Ehud Barak was behind the decision to
cancel the drill. This led to speculation that Israel was either planning on
attacking Iran in the spring and therefore did not want US troops in the country
or wanted to cause the US to think that it was planning an attack to get the
administration to escalate sanctions.
The 10th AAMDC oversees EUCOM’s
Patriot unit and also is responsible for the X-Band radar that is deployed in
the Negev as well as the one recently stationed in Turkey.
which is unprecedented in size, will include the establishment of US command
posts in Israel and IDF command posts at EUCOM headquarters in Germany – with
the ultimate goal of establishing joint task forces in the event of a
large-scale conflict in the Middle East.
The US is also expected to bring
its THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) and ship-based Aegis ballistic
missile defense systems to Israel to simulate the interception of missile salvos
against Israel. The American systems will work in conjunction with Israel’s
missile defense systems – the Arrow, Patriot and Iron Dome.
spokesman Capt. John Ross said Tuesday that Austere Challenge was being held “in
the context of a long-standing strategic partnership” with Israel and was part
of a routine training cycle designed to improve cooperation. It was not in
response to current events, such as the Iranian nuclear threat, he
“Every opportunity we train together is an opportunity to improve
our military capabilities,” Ross said. “Like other bilateral exercises, Austere
Challenge 12 represents another milestone in the strategic relationship between
the US and Israel to promote regional stability.”
EUCOM established the
10th Army Air & Missile Defense Command earlier this year as part of a US
response to the growing Iranian ballistic missile threat to Europe.
absolutely essential that as the threats continue to expand, the EUCOM have this
capability,” Richmond said in an interview with a US military publication in
During his visit to Israel, Richmond met with Col. Zvika
Haimovitch, commander of Air Defense Wing 167, which is responsible for
operating Israel’s missile defense systems – Arrow, Patriot, Iron Dome and
David’s Sling. Richmond also toured one of the Iron Dome batteries in the South
and the Air Defense Division’s training school.
The IAF is planning to
deploy a fourth battery of the Iron Dome counter-rocket system in the coming
weeks and is also moving forward with the development of David’s Sling, a system
that will be used to defend against medium-range rockets. A first test of Arrow
3, which will constitute the upper tier of Israel’s missile defense structure,
is also scheduled to be held by the end of the year.