Readying the quiver – Arrow 3 set to fly

Arrow 3 represents the finest in bilateral military cooperation, a testament to the depth and ingenuity of the US-Israel military alliance.

Arrow missile defense system launch 390 (photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
Arrow missile defense system launch 390
(photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
Eyeing Iran’s rapidly progressing nuclear program, the United States and Israel are jointly developing missile defense systems capable of protecting Israel, US forces and friendly countries from potential medium- and long-range Iranian missile attacks. The Arrow 3, whose first flight test was just postponed until November at the earliest due to an interceptor malfunction, is the latest and most capable iteration of the Arrow (Hetz) Missile Defense System. Once operational, the Arrow 3 will be the most advanced missile defense system in the world, a powerful example of the fruits of the US-Israel relationship.
When deployed, Arrow 3 will be Israel’s frontline missile defense in any future conflict with Iran and is a marked improvement over the currently fielded Arrow 2, operational since 2005. Arrow 3 is “more advanced than what we have ever attempted in the US with our programs,” Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, director of the US Missile Defense Agency, proclaimed earlier in the year.
Co-produced by Boeing and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the mobile Arrow System consists of four main components: the hypersonic Arrow interceptors themselves, the EL/M- 2080 early warning AESA radar (also known as the Super Green Pine), the command, control, communication and intelligence center (C3I), and the launch control center.
The Arrow 3 provides more time to engage the latest generation of enemy missiles. As a “shoot, look, shoot” system with a “high divert” capability, the Arrow 3 can be launched immediately after detection of the incoming missile into what Israeli planners call a “waiting space.” Once the incoming missile’s precise speed and trajectory are determined, the Arrow 3’s “warhead,” known as the kill vehicle, can be redirected to the target using a dual-pulse motor, striking it in outer space, just above the earth’s atmosphere.
The Arrow 3 interceptor missile boasts twice the range of the Arrow 2, despite being significantly smaller and weighing only half as much. Costs have dropped as well, with the Arrow 3 interceptors expected to run $2.2 million a piece, about 20 percent less than the Arrow 2.
In anticipation of a high volume of incoming missiles, the Super Green Pine radar can track 30 targets moving at speeds of more than 3,000 meters per second at a greater than 400 km. range, and, combined with the Arrow 3 interceptor, the Arrow System is expected to be capable of intercepting salvos of more than five enemy missiles within 30 seconds.
The early launch time and higher intercept altitude could allow for up to five separate intercept attempts to be made at the same incoming missile, several by the Arrow 3 above the atmosphere and several by Arrow 2 after reentry. The Arrow System is also capable of operating with the even more powerful US-owned and operated X-band radar stationed in the Negev.
Illustrative of the strong defense ties between the US and Israel, Arrow 3 is not only a collaborative project between Boeing and IAI, but also a partnership between the US Missile Defense Agency and the Israel Missile Defense Organization. Working out of its Huntsville, Alabama plant, Boeing delivered its first Arrow 3 component in February 2010. Thus far, Boeing has contributed about one-third of the interceptor components and will be responsible for 50% of production moving forward, with the rest done by IAI in Israel. Moreover, the United States receives all data from Israeli field tests, reaping the benefits of a program it has helped fund.
If the flight test is successful, Arrow 3 will mark a revolution in missile defense, with worldwide reverberations. Boeing already expects a large global sales potential, particularly to countries threatened by long-range ballistic missiles; two potential customers, India and South Korea, have purchased reconfigured versions of the Green Pine radar, and a $1 billion deal to sell the Arrow system to South Korea might be on the horizon. With Iranian, North Korean and Chinese ballistic missile arsenals increasing, many US allies, such as Arab Gulf states or Asian littoral countries, would have heightened interest in the system.
“Israeli missile defense is unique in the world,” Bill Dickerhoff, Arrow Program Manager at Boeing, explained. Due to Israel’s small size and high population density in the region around Tel Aviv, a single successful nuclear missile strike could end the country’s existence. Arrow 3’s pioneering improvements will add precious minutes to Israel’s response time, increasing the chance of a successful interception, greatly reducing the possibility of nuclear fallout permeating the atmosphere, and giving the Israeli populace more time to seek shelter, potentially saving millions of lives.
Arrow 3 represents the finest in bilateral military cooperation, a testament to the depth and ingenuity of the US-Israel military alliance. After successful “hot ejection” and radar tracking tests performed over the past year, postponement of the first flight test – a second flight test and two interception tests will be required before Israel declares the system operational – is not expected to hurt the program’s target of becoming operational by the middle of the decade. When finally operational, Arrow 3 will represent extraordinary progress in the elusive and decadeslong march toward effective missile defense.
The writer is a Visiting Fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).