Israeli-US anti-missile drill back on track

Missile defense officer from US military’s European Command visits country to help plan exercise for late this year.

HOME FRONT troops take part in a missile defense drill 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
HOME FRONT troops take part in a missile defense drill 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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 capability.
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.
The 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.
The drill, 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.
EUCOM 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 said.
“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.
“It’s 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 January.
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.