Arrow 3 test: Those in charge of Israel’s security are 'wide awake'

Military Affairs: With a backdrop of rising tensions with Iran, Israel and the US held a successful Arrow 3 missile interception test over Alaska. Should we feel safer?

By
August 2, 2019 05:36
Israel, US carry out successful test of Arrow-3 missile over Alaska

Israel, US carry out successful test of Arrow-3 missile over Alaska. (photo credit: ISRAEL DEFENSE MINISTRY)

High above the clear blue skies of the Alaskan horizon this week, bright flashes of light and a rumbling sound disturbed the serenity. The conflict between Israel and Iran reaches far and wide.

The pristine calm was the unlikely setting for a test of Israel’s explosive safety net intercepting mock Iranian ballistic missiles.

Israel’s successful test of the Arrow 3 defense system comes at a critical time, a time of heightened tensions with Tehran, and gives Israel, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared at the cabinet meeting following the tests, the “ability to act against ballistic missiles fired against us from Iran and from any other location.”

A recent Israeli intelligence assessment stated that the threat posed by Iran – including its nuclear and ballistic missile program – is the No. 1 priority for the IDF.

There was a flurry of speculation that something major was taking place when Channel 13’s Barak Ravid reported over the weekend that Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer was in Alaska, and quoted unnamed Israeli officials as saying that this was not a usual diplomatic visit but, rather, a “much more important and even dramatic” trip. According to the report, the visit was concerning an issue “at the core of the US-Israel security relationship” and had to do with cooperation regarding the threat from Iran.

By Sunday, the veil over the reasons for the visit was lifted. A project of the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO), a division of the Israeli Defense Ministry, and jointly manufactured by Boeing, the Arrow 3 is considered one of the world’s best interceptors and designed to provide ultimate air defense by intercepting ballistic missiles – including those with nuclear warheads – when they are still outside the earth’s atmosphere.

Moving at extremely high speeds, the interceptor physically hits the target in space before the warhead splits off, thereby limiting any damage it can cause to Israel, including radioactive contamination.

In addition to the Arrow system, Israel’s air defenses currently include the Iron Dome, designed to shoot down short-range rockets, and the David’s Sling missile defense system, designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, medium- to long-range rockets, as well as cruise missiles fired at ranges between 40 km. and 300 km.

To test the Arrow 3, an Israeli military delegation traveled 9,357 km. to the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska (PSCA) in Kodiak, Alaska.

“The Arrow 3 is too big for the State of Israel,” said IMDO director Moshe Patel after the announcement of the conclusion of the tests on Sunday. “It is supposed to be good against nuclear threats that are coming from Iran. We have limitations in our arena to conduct flight tests because of safety.”

“What happened in Alaska was the most similar to operational missions,” Brig.-Gen (res.) Zvika Haimovich, the former Aerial Defense Division commander, told The Jerusalem Post.

Israel has tested the system before, launching the interceptor from the Palmahim air base in central Israel last January. But the PSCA is on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, which is significantly larger than the Mediterranean Sea, allowing for the ability to test the full capabilities of the system.

During the trials in Alaska, which were the first of their kind, the Arrow 3 missiles were fired on three occasions at target missiles simulating future threats that Israel might face. All three were successfully intercepted outside the atmosphere.

AN AMERICAN ground-based AN/TPY2 radar also participated in the tests and “successfully demonstrated operational connectivity between the systems,” read a statement by the Defense Ministry.
Haimovich told the Post that while the radar used in the test in Alaska is not part of the Arrow 3 system, which uses Elta’s L-band electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, “the AN/TPY-2 is part of the regional defense and part of the architecture when we are talking of a multitier and multi-defense system.”

The system has been deployed to several allied nations and, according to foreign reports, the American military has placed one of the radars on top of Mount Keren in the Negev Desert.

The AN/TPY-2 is a high-resolution X-band radar array which is designed to search, acquire, track and differentiate inbound threats. It provides additional early warning against ballistic missile launches from close to 3,000 miles (4,830 km.) away.

Iran, which possesses over 1,000 short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, is suspected of continuing to smuggle weapons to countries and non-state actors such as Hezbollah, which is assessed to have an arsenal of between 100,000 and 150,000 missiles on Israel’s northern border, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Haimovich, who served as the top IDF officer in the air defense division until last year, oversaw the official delivery of the system in January 2017. He explained that “the timing of the tests has nothing to do with the tension with Iran; they were planned years before and were originally planned to take place last year.”

The Defense Ministry delayed the test in the United States last year following consultations between Washington and Jerusalem “in order to achieve maximum readiness” for the field test. At the time KTOO news reported that the test would be part of the $80 million contract between MDA and the Alaska Aerospace Corp.

According to Haimovich, the test in Alaska showed the deep cooperation between Israel and the US. Washington and Israel have signed an agreement that would see the US come to assist Israel with missile defense in times of war, and several large-scale joint drills simulating ballistic missile attacks on Israel have taken place over the years.

Last year 300 American troops took part in Juniper Falcon, which tested the ability of rapid deployment of US forces in Israel under fire during conflict, and the previous year 3,000 American troops took part in Juniper Cobra, which simulated a massive missile attack on the Israeli home front.

These sorts of drills “provide the glue” that strengthens “the bond between the United States and Israel,” Lt.-Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, the deputy commander of US Air Forces in Europe-US Air Forces Africa, told the Post during the Juniper Falcon drill in February.

In March the US military also deployed a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery to Israel for the first time, as part of a drill between the two allies, as well as 250 American personnel belonging to the US European Command.

THAAD is designed to protect against hostile incoming threats, such as tactical and theater ballistic missiles, at ranges of 200 km. and altitudes of up to 150 km., intercepting exo-atmospheric and endo-atmospheric missiles.

During the monthlong drill, the THAAD system, which is considered one of the most advanced systems of its kind in the world, was added to the existing Israeli air defense systems that defend against long-range ballistic missiles, giving the IDF an “opportunity to practice its integration in the IAF Air Defense Array,” read a statement released by the military at the time.

While Israel and the Americans have been busy drilling on readiness against the threat posed by ballistic missiles, the other side hasn’t been sitting back and enjoying its coffee. Last week it test-fired a Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile from the country’s southeastern coastline along the Gulf of Oman, before it fell 1,000 km. away in northern Iran.

With a range of between 1,000 and 2,000 km., the Shabab-3 can reach Israel.

While the test in Alaska may not have been planned to coincide with the rising tensions with Iran, the Iranians’ continued work on their ballistic missile program and the ongoing war of words between Washington and Tehran make it most inadvisable for the Jewish state to be asleep at the wheel of missile defense. And the successful test of the Arrow 3 demonstrates that those in charge of Israel’s security are wide awake.


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