Israel, US to hold missile defense drill

Exclusive: Largest-ever drill to include Arrow 2, US-developed THAAD and ship-based Aegis system.

arrow 2 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
arrow 2 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In the face of Iran's continued pursuit of nuclear capability, Israel and the United States will hold an unprecedented and massive exercise later this year to jointly test three different ballistic missile defense systems, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The exercise, called Juniper Cobra, will be held in Israel and will include the newly developed Arrow 2, as well as America's THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) and the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. The test will likely include the launching of interceptors from these systems. The Israel Air Force's Air Defense Division, the US Missile Defense Agency and the US Military's European Command (EUCOM) have held the Juniper Cobra exercise for the past five years. The upcoming exercise, though, is planned to be the most complex and extensive yet. News of the scheduled exercise was revealed in testimony Missile Defense Agency director Lt.-Gen. Patrick J. O'Reilly gave to the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on defense earlier this month. Israeli defense officials said Monday that the purpose of the exercise was to create the necessary infrastructure that would enable interoperability between Israeli and American BMD systems in case the US government decided to deploy these systems here in the event of a conflict with Iran, like it did ahead of the Gulf War in Iraq in 1991. "The Juniper Cobra exercise between EUCOM and the IDF will be the fifth and most complex exercise yet designed," O'Reilly told the subcommittee. "US ballistic missile defense elements such as the AN/TPY-2 [the American X-Band radar deployed in the Negev - Y.K.], THAAD and Aegis BMD will participate in these flight tests and exercises to demonstrate the interoperability and develop operational tactics, techniques and procedures associated with this coalition architecture," he said. Last Monday, the IAF held its 17th test of the Arrow 2 interceptor, shooting down a missile mimicking an Iranian Shihab ballistic missile. In his extensive testimony, O'Reilly also revealed that in February the David's Sling missile defense system underwent a successful "booster fly-out" test. The exercise involved the successful launching of a missile by the system that Israel and the US are developing jointly to intercept medium-range missiles between 70 km. and 250 km. The first intercept test of the system, he said, is scheduled to take place in 2010. O'Reilly also told the subcommittee that the Missile Defense Agency supported the development and US funding of Israel's Arrow 3, the future of which is currently undecided since US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced extensive cuts to the US defense budget last week. While the Arrow 3 had a reduced 30-year life-cycle cost and was potentially more suitable for Israeli requirements, the development of the system was deemed to have a "high schedule risk," including "technical risks to meet the Israeli proposed need date." As a result, the US general said, the Missile Defense Agency was looking into the development of a land-based variant of the Aegis system, which currently fires SM-3 interceptors from naval ships. "To mitigate the Arrow 3 high schedule risk, we are pursuing concept development of a land-based variant of the proven Aegis SM-3 missile to meet Israel's more immediate upper tier requirements," O'Reilly said. Amid mounting fears that the funding for the Arrow will be cut, Defense Minister Ehud Barak will meet on Thursday with New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey, who serves as the chair of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, responsible for approving the funding for the continued development of the Arrow 3. Lowey will be in Israel as part of a congressional delegation, but officials said her meeting with Barak was of extreme importance in light of the indecision regarding the continued funding of the Arrow 3. Israel is hoping to secure some $150 million to continue development of the system by Israel Aerospace Industries and Boeing.