Arrow sharp

Arrow 3 underscores Israel’s ongoing technological superiority in the region and it can buy us time.

February 28, 2013 23:39
3 minute read.
Arrow missile defense system.

Arrow missile defense system 390. (photo credit: Israel Aerospace Industries/Reuters)


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The state-of-the-art Arrow 3 ballistic missile interceptor passed its first systems test last week with flying colors. This most-advanced missile defense design in the world exceeded all expectations. Even the scientists who labored long and hard to take the concept from the drawing board to a flying and maneuverable exemplar were struck speechless by its sterling performance.

The Arrow 3 test missile was launched into space from a coastal military launch pad in Palmahim. It remained airborne for more than six minutes, testing Arrow 3’s fly-out capabilities at altitudes that went beyond the lower boundary of space. It performed each and every task it was programmed for.

Arrow 3 is an Israeli-American co-production designed to provide crucial air defense and minimize the mounting menace of sophisticated long-range rocketry such as the sort supplied by the rogue North Korea to regional regimes, most notably to Iran but not to it alone.

Put plainly, the Arrow system is envisioned as the highest-tier protection in Israel’s multi-layer defense framework. It is geared to counter threats against this country from missiles that are launched into space and reenter the earth’s atmosphere to deliver their lethal warheads to a predetermined target.

Arrow 3 is expected to intercept incoming ballistic missiles above the atmosphere, in space. The interceptor will provide several opportunities to achieve this task the missiles are still above enemy territory.

The earlier model Arrow 2 will be on the lookout for incoming missiles at a slightly lower tier, just about where the atmosphere ends.

At the medium tier, Israel will be protected by the Magic Wand complex (a.k.a. David’s Sling), while at the lower level the by-now familiar Iron Dome enters the fray.

The good news is that Arrow 3 is more agile, weighs roughly half what its predecessor Arrow 2 does and promises to be 20 percent cheaper (estimated at $2.2 million per interceptor). It is also capable of intercepting longer-range ballistic missiles and of doing so at considerably higher altitudes than Arrow 2, which has been operational for eight years. The sobering news, though, is that Arrow 3 will not be operational until 2016.

But we must not lose our perspective. There are no instant solutions. The nature of both attack weapons and the defensive antidotes invented to counteract them is that they are steadily and inexorably evolving. There can never be a single or finite response to all the multifaceted dangers which engulf us. The latest test in itself is the culmination of a sustained effort that had been in the works for years.

Like it or not, our increasingly unstable and unpredictable region is in the grips of a maddening arms race that we cannot halt on our own but to which we must respond. We need to keep developing new responses to the mutating weaponry that our enemies import and maintain. There can be no respite and attempts to thwart what the enemy may be preparing must be constant.

This is foremost a contest of imaginations with existential implications long into the future and with far-reaching global ramifications.

The fact that we are concocting a new, upgraded arrow to add to our collective quiver should enhance our confidence and should signal to those who strive to annihilate the Jewish state that it is hardly as vulnerable as they would like to believe.

The outstanding success of the test, conducted calmly and without fanfare here several days ago, is another in a long line of feathers in the caps of Israel’s innovative scientists and defense industries. We have every reason to be proud.

Arrow 3 underscores Israel’s ongoing technological superiority in the region and it can buy us time. But it and accompanying lower-tier interceptors unfortunately cannot hermetically seal our skies, nor can they replace traditional offensive measures to destroy weapons of mass destruction arsenals across the lines.

There are no neat, deluxe fixes, but Arrow 3 means better protection by far than that which is currently available, at higher altitudes and at significantly greater distances from our narrow borders. For a tiny, densely populated state such as Israel that is very reassuring news.

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