David’s Sling: The IDF's newest arrow in its missile defense sling

David’s Sling took years of tests before it was operational in 2017. These systems are complex and they need to grow to meet expanding threats.

Who’s afraid of missile defense? (photo credit: Nehemia Gershuni-Aylho)
Who’s afraid of missile defense?
(photo credit: Nehemia Gershuni-Aylho)
This week, the defense system David’s Sling was officially used for the first time. It fired two interceptors against a ballistic missile threat from Syria.
When the missiles in Syria were projected to fall within Syrian territory one of the interceptors self-destructed and the other landed in Syria.
It was the first operational use of the medium-range system that is designed to counter a variety of threats, including incoming missiles at ranges of around 50-300 km.
In development for 10 years, the system was produced by Rafael and Raytheon in the US.
Its radar is built by Elta, a subsidiary of IAI and its command and control system is designed by Elisra, a subsidiary if Elbit.
It was originally envisioned as a system that could deal with multiple threats from Hezbollah in the wake of the 2006 war. It fits into the multi-layered shield Israel has built, including Iron Dome and the Arrow.
“Two David’s Sling batteries will cover the whole of Israel,” Ari Sacher, of Rafael’s Air Superiority Systems Division said in 2016. “It protects Israel against strategic threats, and has the range, the speed and the maneuverability to do so.”
Iron Dome confronts smaller threats, primarily those from Gaza whereas Arrow can be used for longer range ballistic missile threats.
Last year an Arrow missile was used to take down a surface-to-air missile heading toward Israel.
David’s Sling is important also because it is part of a joint US-Israel program designing advanced air defense systems.
The US has provided $1.39 billion to the joint program over the last several years and missile defense has become a cornerstone of the US security relationship.
This year another $500 million will be allocated by Congress. This shows how important Israel’s innovated systems are for the US and potentially for other markets as well.
Partnering with US firms such as Raytheon helps integrate Israel’s defense expertise into the US market as well.
Potentially this leads to major arms sales in the future. It also leads to Israel being the best defended country in the world in terms of missile defense.
Jerusalem is looking to put another $8b. into missile defense over the next 10 years.
With US funding that could total more than $13b. The importance of committing to long-term missile defense is clear considering past threats.
David’s Sling took years of tests before it was operational in 2017. These systems are complex and they need to grow to meet expanding threats.
For instance when these systems were first built, Israel was looking at threats from Gaza and southern Lebanon.
But rocket systems have changed and the threat now emerging from Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq is a new front.
In addition Israel’s missile technology has ramifications for the region. Rockets have been fired from Sinai.
In Yemen, the Houthis have been firing long-range ballistic missiles at Riyadh, more than 800 km. from the Houthi-held areas. Missiles are the strategic threat of the future, something that was realized in the 1990s but is only fully being understood today. For instance, a missile fired at a Saudi ship this week has the potential to stop oil shipments via the Bab al-Mandeb straits of the Red Sea.
Jerusalem has done the right thing on missile defense. Considering long-term budgets is essential to keeping Israel at the cutting edge, maintaining its ability to counter whatever Iran might conceivably develop over the next decade.
And Iran is developing ballistic missiles and seeking to improve them.
The threats this week from Syria, including the downing of a Syrian jet and ISIS-fired BM-21 rockets that fell in Lake Kinneret, show the complex threats Israel faces.
Beyond the issue of immediate concerns is the importance of the US-Israel strategic relationship. Israel has become a key part of the US defense industries relationships abroad. This is unique historically and fostering this will be a key to the future in which the US will continue to play the major role in the region and globally in terms of defense technology.
The citizens of the North, subject to warning sirens and rushing to shelters this week, should not have to live in fear of attack. David’s Sling goes a long way toward keeping them safe and providing Israel with a qualitative edge over those that would do it harm.