Israel carried out a landmark successful interception of a target in space using its Arrow-3 missile defense system on Thursday, amid reports of advances by Iran in its long-range ballistic missile program.
The Defense Ministry’s Missile Defense Organization, which worked with the American Missile Defense Agency on the project, launched an Arrow-3 interceptor from a military installation in central Israel on Thursday morning, after the system’s radar and fire control station detected a target in space, which represented an incoming ballistic missile.
A Sparrow-type target fired from an Israeli fighter aircraft flying off the Mediterranean coast went into space, where it released two targets for Arrow-3’s radars to lock onto. Once outside the atmosphere, the Arrow-3 missile released a kill vehicle, which deployed its own sensor, and guided itself for a direct collision with the target. The kill vehicle depends on kinetic impact and high precision to destroy its target, and is the only Israeli missile defense system that does not carry explosive warheads.
“The Arrow-3 interceptor carried out all of the flight stages according to plan, and destroyed the target. The interception itself occurred in space,” the Defense Ministry said.
Israel Aerospace Industries is the prime contractor for the missile. The defense company’s director-general Yossi Weiss said the trial was important milestone on the path to operational readiness, calling it “a most complex project technologically” that is being pursued “in close cooperation with our American partner, Boeing.”
IAI’s system integration division, MLM, is leading the project, as well as IAI subsidiary ELTA Systems, which is developing the radar.
Elbit System’s Elisra Group is behind Arrow-3’s command and control system, called Golden Citron. In a statement, Elbit said the system “calculates that defense plan against the [enemy] missile, classifies the target, estimates the threat, and plans the interception, as well as taking the decision on when and how to fire the interceptor.”
The Arrow-3 missile interceptor travels at twice the speed of a tank shell to leave the atmosphere. It is designed to seek and destroy Iranian Shihab-3 missiles, as well as other long-range missile threats.
“We can confirm a complete success this morning [Thursday],” said Yair Ramati, of the Defense Ministry’s Administration for the Development of Weapons. “At 8:10 we launched the intercepting missile at the target and hit it. It is the best result possible.”
Weighing less than half of the Arrow-2 missile, the Arrow-3 produces an additional missile defense layer in space. Together with the Arrow-2 system, Arrow-3 gives the military two to three opportunities to intercept long-range missiles.
The Arrow-3 does not need to know the exact location of the incoming missile when it takes off to intercept it. Once in space, it rapidly locates the target.
The Arrow-3 is part of a developing multi-layered missile defense shield, consisting of the Arrow-3 at the outer perimeter, followed by Arrow-2, which stops ballistic missiles in the upper atmosphere. Lower down, the David’s Sling (also known as Magic Wand) system is designed to stop intermediate rockets and missiles, and is set to become operational soon.
Iron Dome is in place to intercept shortrange and medium-range rockets.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon described the trial as “further proof of the impressive qualities of defense industries in Israel and their employees,” adding that IAI’s staff members “conquer a new visionary peak of vision, creativity, and professionalism each time for the security of Israeli citizens.”
The trial’s success is “another phase in the State of Israel’s ability to safeguard our power, alongside our impressive and varied offensive capabilities,” he said.
Ya’alon expressed thanks to “our great friend the United States, which is a partner in the project, and supports it.”