Israel, US working together to counter threat of hypersonic missiles

Though Israel has a multi-layered air defense umbrella including Iron Dome and Arrow 3, there is still nothing that can block hypersonic missiles.

A missile is launched during what state media report is a hypersonic missile test at an undisclosed location in North Korea, January 11, 2022, in this photo released January 12, 2022 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). (photo credit: KCNA VIA REUTERS/FILE PHOTO)
A missile is launched during what state media report is a hypersonic missile test at an undisclosed location in North Korea, January 11, 2022, in this photo released January 12, 2022 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
(photo credit: KCNA VIA REUTERS/FILE PHOTO)

Israel was concerned about hypersonic missiles in the region long before Iran announced that it had developed such weapons, and had been working with the United States Missile Defense Agency to counter any such threats.

“Hypersonic missiles are not yet a threat in the region but they are a big concern,” one senior officer in the IDF’s Air Defense Array said in September.

“Hypersonic missiles are not yet a threat in the region but they are a big concern.”

IDF Air Defense Array

According to the officer, due to the threat, Israel has been working hand-in-hand with the US MDA. 

Israel and US try to defend against hypersonic missiles

Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO) and MDA are key partners in numerous air defense projects. Washington and Israel have also signed an agreement that would see the US come to assist Israel with missile defense in times of war and the two militaries have held numerous joint air defense in recent years.

 A Russian Air Force MiG-31 fighter jet releases Kinzhal hypersonic missile during a drill in an unknown location in Russia, in this still image taken from video released February 19, 2022. (credit: RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) A Russian Air Force MiG-31 fighter jet releases Kinzhal hypersonic missile during a drill in an unknown location in Russia, in this still image taken from video released February 19, 2022. (credit: RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Though Israel has a multi-layered air defense umbrella including the Iron Dome, Arrow 2, Arrow 3, David’s Sling and the still-in-development Iron Beam laser system, there is still no system that can intercept hypersonic missiles.

Due to the emerging threat, MDA requested $225 million for hypersonic missile defense in its fiscal 2023 budget request.

MDA has been working on developing missile interceptors to hit hostile hypersonic missiles with another hypersonic missile known as Glide Phase Interceptor (GPI). The GPI would take out the hostile missile in the glide phase of its flight-when it is most vulnerable.

It is also working on a space-based system to take out hostile missiles that are hard to track, such as hypersonic missiles. The program would see a multi-layered system that would bring together satellite-based sensors, ground radars and more in order to locate, track and intercept hypersonic missiles.

Israel is also working to increase its presence in space with a constellation of satellites that could track hostile targets. 

Hypersonic missiles pose an emerging threat as they fly five times faster than the speed of sound and have complex and varying flight paths, making them hard to intercept. They also fly much higher than subsonic missiles yet much lower than intercontinental ballistic missiles in an area where many countries-including the US-do does not have enough tracking covering.

These missiles can also carry nuclear warheads, making the threat even more alarming.

Especially after Iran announced on Thursday that it had developed a hypersonic missile that could “penetrate every missile defense shield.”

Iran’s Tasnim News Agency quoted IRGC Aerospace Force commander, Brig.-Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh as saying that "This missile has a high speed and can maneuver in and out of the atmosphere. It will target the enemy's advanced anti-missile systems and is a big generational leap in the field of missiles.” 

According to Hajizadeh the new missile can penetrate sophisticated air defense systems.

Despite sanctions and international criticism, Iran, which possesses over 1,000 short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, continues to work on its missile and nuclear programs.

With tensions increasing over Iran’s nuclear program and regional hostility, Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz told reporters on Tuesday that Israel has the ability to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“Israel has the ability to act in Iran. We have the readiness, development capabilities, and long-term plans we are managing. We need to prepare for this possibility, and we will also need to consider this issue very carefully before carrying it out,” he told military reporters on Tuesday. 

Such preparations are believed to cost over NIS 7 billion.