In addition to being Israel's answer to the threat from Iran's long-range missiles, the new Arrow 3 anti-ballistic missile system is another demonstration of Israeli defense industries' prowess. In a world still thrilled with the impressive interception capabilities of Iron Dome, Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) and the Ministry of Defense are trying to do the same thing, but completely differently: to intercept ballistic missiles long before they enter Israeli airspace by neutralizing them in outer space.
20 years ago, Israel unveiled its technological capabilities in response to the missile threat against the home front, making it a global pioneer in missile defense. In 2000, the Arrow system was declared operational, and it seems that as the missile threat expands and grows stronger, the Ministry of Defense's Directorate of Defense R&D team is whistling all the way to new arena of warfare.
The latest test of the Arrow 3 was successfully completed in early January, giving the green light to complete the system which will add the upper layer to Israel's missile defense. For a decade, the IDF and IAI have been developing the Arrow 3, with generous financial aid from the US, which is separate from regular defense aid.
A critical test
The IDF campaigned against steep cuts in the defense budget, which included several attempts to add the Arrow to the long list of strategically critical projects that were delayed or frozen for years. A few weeks ago, the IDF proved once again that the best spin is only that: the Arrow program has continued on schedule, with no slowdowns, no cuts, and a lot of determination.
"Naturally we want more budgets, but the system was developed right on schedule from the beginning, with help from the Americans and with the necessary budgets," says IAI MLM Missile Division director Boaz Levy. "In terms of the missile's national importance against threats, I do not think that there is anyone who doubts this program. Given the constant warnings about the Iranian threat, the Arrow 3 provides us the best supplementary response."
A critical test of the new missile will be carried out in a few weeks. In this test, for the first time, the missile's operators will have to intercept a target missile that will simulate an incoming Iranian Shahab ballistic missile.
Although so far the Arrow 3 has only succeeded in intercepting threats to its R&D funding, the Ministry of Defense and IAI engineers are so convinced that the missile will work that they have decided not to waste precious time and to begin production.
Few interception tests are planned anyway, and if the tests that will be carried out indicate a gap between planned and actual performance, minor software updates should be able to correct them. An announcement that the Arrow 3 is operational is due is 2015, and Ministry of Defense sources are already thinking about future upgrades of the system to give every Iranian missile an explosive reception while it still has a good view of the earth.
As far away as possible
The Arrow 3 is an evolutionary development of the Arrow 2, which will continue to be relevant in the years ahead. The next generation of the Arrow was developed with an eye to the latest threats in the missile arena: the program planner's guiding principle was that if Israel were to face nuclear-tipped missiles, it was best to intercept them as far away as possible. In addition to the environmental importance of intercepting unconventionally armed missiles above the atmosphere, the Arrow 3 gives the ground crew the time needed to fire an interceptor against an incoming missile and to fire a second interceptor if the first one misses.
Under these circumstances, the Arrow 2 will be the second interceptor. Batteries are already deployed at Ein Shemer and Palmachim. As for the possibility that the Arrow 2 will miss too; well, this won't be very pleasant, but it is given a low probability by the IDF. A senior official familiar with Israel's multi-tiered missile defense system says that Israel is building the David's Sling interceptor, under joint development by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. and Raytheon Corporation (NYSE: RTN), to deal with such an eventuality. David's Sling is due to be ready in a few years.
Patriot missile batteries, which have undergone several upgrades since their dismal performance against Iraqi Scuds in the first Gulf War in 1991, will have something to contribute under such a scenario.
Common language with the Arrow 2
As an exo-atmospheric missile, the Arrow 3 will only operate at high altitudes and at specifications not applicable to the well-known Arrow 2 that some would say is obsolescent. The Arrow 3 is a completely different missile, both visually (it is smaller) and operationally (the interception in outer space is without explosives, but by direct contract), whereas the Arrow 2 is designed to blow up the target missile with shrapnel from its explosive warhead.
That said, the Arrow 3 will use the same language as the operational Arrow systems. This is precisely what the latest trial tested two weeks ago. Analysis of the results found that the Arrow communicated well with the Arrow's Great Pine radar system, developed by Elbit Systems Ltd. (Nasdaq: ESLT; TASE: ESLT) unit Elta Systems, and obeyed the existing command and control system developed by Tadiran (now part of Elbit System's Elisra unit).
During the ten-minute test, the team from the Ministry of Defense, IAI and its partner Boeing Company (NYSE: BA) challenged the missile with a string of commands from the ground. "It tested the envelope and demonstrated impressive performance," said Israel Missile Defense Organization director Yair Ramati afterwards.
This common language should not be taken lightly: it greatly facilitates the integration of the Arrow 3 with the existing Arrow 2 network, and lowers costs. When the Arrow 3 is declared operational, and faces a barrage of incoming missiles, the current systems will allow the battery commander to choose between the Arrow 2 and the Arrow 3.
"The threats are changing, and our response changes accordingly," says Homa Administration high-level systems department director Col. (res.) Aviram Hasson. "Without the need to make too many changes, the new missile will be integrated with the existing system, basically keeping everything the same. We're adding another arrow to our bow which will make it possible to manage the battle better and more focused.
"The Arrow 3 is designed as a super-tactical interceptor, which will allow us to keep our daily routine under any circumstances, just like the Iron Dome has proved." Hasson has no doubts: Israel's unfriendly neighbors, as well as more distant enemies, are constantly watching what happens here.
While IAI is working hard to assemble the world's most advanced ballistic missile interceptor, it is also wracking its brains to develop the missile that will challenge it. "I know that they are thinking about the next thing that will threaten us, and that is why we're constantly challenging ourselves on the matter. We're heretical in our basic assumptions and our working assumptions in order to invent the best and most relevant thing. It's a very complicated chess game," says Hasson.
Hasson confirms that before one target missile is intercepted, even in a test, the Ministry of Defense is already thinking on an upgraded version of the Arrow 3.
When the Arrow 3 becomes operational, there is probably no other country in the world that will be able to share in the pleasure, and not just because IAI does not want this. High-ranking defense sources say that there has been great interest by many countries over the past decade to procure state-of-the-art missile defense systems, and to pay top dollar for them.
South Korea, which faces a missile threaten from North Korea, has only procured the Arrow system's radar. Several European countries and at least two Asian countries can only dream about this. Former top Ministry of Defense officials, who have learned the hard way that when the Americans say "no", they really mean "no", can testify to this.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 19, 2014
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