Israel upgrades anti-ballistic defense system, amid recent Iran and Syria drills
Haaretz analyst Amos Harel says new improvements to Arrow system should be viewed as part of the complex campaign currently conducted between Israel, Iran and Hezbollah.
As regional threats against Israel are being highlighted by the country's leaders, the Defense Ministry is working on upgrading its Arrow anti-ballistic defense system, specifically the Arrow-2.
The ministry did not provide details about the improvements its making, but a senior security official told Haaretz the improved Arrow-2 will allow Israel to intercept medium-range rockets and missiles. This can help against potential attacks by Syrian and Hezbollah M600 advance rockets, an accurate weapon with an estimated range of 300 kilometers. The Arrow's maximal range was apparently also improved.
The Arrow project, developed by Israel Aerospace Industries and by the U.S.-based Boeing in the 90s, is a long-range anti-ballistic defense system. Arrow-2 batteries are already deployed and operational, and according to agreements between the two countries, the U.S. is funding the development of an advanced system, Arrow-3, which will be completed within a few years.
Originally, the Arrow missile was intended for intercepting long-range ballistic missiles such as Syria's various Scuds and Iran's Shahab missiles. In recent years, Israel has developed (with U.S. financial aid) the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system against short-range threats, such as Qassam and Katyusha rockets. Gradually, the system was upgraded to answer medium-range threats, like the Iranian Fajr-5, which has a range of 75 kilometers.
However, Israel's response to the rocket and missile threats was not complete. There was a gap in the defense, between the Iron Dome's maximum range and the Arrow's minimal range. A third system, David's Sling, is meant to bridge that gap; but it is still being developed and will only be operational in 2015. The improved Arrow-2 is intended as a partial and temporary, though important, response to dealing with the gap until then.
The security source says that the improved Arrow interceptor, named Block-4, includes upgrades to its software, hardware, sensor array, command and control systems, and also to its interception missiles.
Earlier this year another improvement was introduced, when the system's radar
Green Pine radar was replaced by a newer model, the Super Green Pine. The new radar was proven successful in a series of tests, most recently in February.
"The radar is more robust and has improved range," the official said, adding that upgrading the Arrow's command and control system will allow it to expand the response to various threats.
Israel's security establishment, under the direction of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the ministry's director general Udi Shani, have given funding of missile and rocket defense systems top priority. In 2012, the budget allocated for the defense establishment's Homa missile-interception project was increased. Recently, the Obama administration announced an additional $680 million in U.S. financial aid aimed at funding different ballistic-interception projects.
The new Israeli developments, as well as the Defense Ministry's decision to provide Haaretz with exclusive details about those developments, should be viewed as part of a complex campaign currently being conducted between Israel, Iran and Hezbollah. Just as Syria and Iran are flexing their muscles, demonstrating missile- and rocket-launching capabilities in frequent training exercises, Israel has decided to publicly announce the fact that it had significantly upgraded its defense systems.
In spite of Israel's impressive achievements in its development of missile interception systems, the production rate is still slow. Up until now, only four Iron Dome batteries have been manufactured. The United States has promised funding for four additional batteries. Estimations are that a minimum of 12 Iron Dome batteries will be required to cover Israel's north and south from the threats of short and medium-range rockets.