Israel's Multi-Tier Missile Defense Revolution

The new development of the Arrow-III missile defense system is intended to engage ballistic missiles outside of the Earth's atmosphere, and augments Israel's multi-tier theater defense system. A peek into the impressive arsenal of Israel's defense industries in Amir Rapaport's weekly column

The David's Sling system (Photo: United States Missile Defense Agency / Wikipedia)

The people of the Russian intelligence community are entitled to a good laugh. With a minimum of effort or even with no effort at all, they managed to rock Washington to the point of bringing about the resounding dismissal of FBI Chief James Comey who, according to recent reports, discovered that he was unemployed through the media.

Comey's dismissal is probably a direct result of the demons' dance around the factual or fictional Russian intervention in the US presidential elections and the real or imagined Russian cyber attacks during the election campaign. In fact, historically nothing is new under the sun: Russian meddling has always been a hot topic during US presidential election campaigns.

Documents made public decades too late revealed, for example, how Russian Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev toyed with the US presidential election in 1960, when he had allegedly preferred John F. Kennedy over Richard Nixon (according to Frederick Kempe's book about the outbreak of the Cold War Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth).

57 years later, the USA seems to be wearing itself out in internal conflicts, while the Russian devil is enjoying himself in the background. Conversations with Democrats and Republicans conducted this month in Washington reflected a profound conviction in the righteousness of the way among the people on both sides and, more importantly – a deep loathing of the other side.

The US intelligence agencies are up to their necks in this turmoil. What is the truth? A close associate of President Trump who was interrogated three times by the FBI on the Russian issue told me that "nothing will come out of it as nothing had happened" – an American version of a famous statement by an Israeli politician. It will be interesting to note whether the investigations would continue under the new FBI chief, who's yet to be appointed.

Questions concerning possible Russian meddling and cyber activity have surfaced again prior to the presidential elections in France earlier this week, but had no effect on the resounding victory of Emmanuel Macron, whose election campaign documents had been leaked. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who never recovered from her involvement in the E-Mail message affair, Macron's people managed to pull the sting out of the leaked document affair by promptly stating that the documents presented by the media were fake, thereby turning the story around.

Fortified Protective Wall

Away from Washington and Paris, a significant development took place within the Israeli defense establishment, although the public attention devoted to it has been fairly limited. This development involves the nearly-simultaneous delivery of two primary missile defense systems, the Arrow-III system delivered to the IAF last January, and the David's Sling system delivered last March. These two systems are currently being absorbed and deployed operationally. Along with the delivery of the first F-35 fighters (so far, five of these new fighters, IAF designation Adir, have arrived in Israel), these are three primary weapon systems being absorbed by the IAF in the last six months of Amir Eshel's tenure as IAF Commandant. In a few weeks, Eshel will be replaced by Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin.

The less talked-about revolution – mainly because the subject matter is too professional and complex – is the one involving the multi-tier missile defense system. The recent delivery of the Arrow-III and David's Sling systems reflects the implementation of a concept maintaining that several attempts will be made to intercept each and every enemy missile launched into Israeli territory.

The first Israeli missile defense system that became operational in the beginning of the previous decade was the Arrow-II, whose development had been initiated pursuant to the first Gulf War in 1991 – in the face of a strong opposition on the part of the IAF, which always prefers to invest its resources in offensive arsenals.

The actual interception process by the Arrow-II system takes place inside the atmosphere. The Arrow-III system, however, is a radically different story: the actual interception should take place at substantial altitudes, in outer space, and provide a solution to the splitting warheads developed by the Iranians. This system is currently the primary project of the Homa Administration at IMOD's Defense Research and Development Directorate (DDR&D, also known as MAFAT), in cooperation with the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA). It constitutes a primary tier in the multi-tier theater defense system of the State of Israel, and the Arrow-III element, developed under the leadership of IAI, is intended to provide the upper defensive tier against the ballistic missile threat.

The Arrow-III interceptor, regarded as one of the world's best interceptors, possesses groundbreaking technological capabilities on a global scale. Its interception capability extends to a longer range, a higher altitude (far above the upper limit of the atmosphere) and is much more accurate. The inclusion of the Arrow-III system in the IAF's operational arsenal will constitute a quantum leap for the missile defense envelope of the State of Israel, and along with the Arrow-II interceptors, it will provide additional interception opportunities that would further reduce the chances of enemy missiles hitting targets inside Israel.

The process of incorporating the new interceptor in the Arrow system included a complete upgrade of all of the elements of this weapon system, which support both the Arrow-II and Arrow-III interceptors added to the operational order of battle. The command and control center was provided with new and important capabilities and the Radar surveillance layout was upgraded with regard to its ability to cope with the future threats expected to emerge in this theater. These significant upgrades involved contributions from the best minds in the Israeli defense industries. The prime contractor of the development of the Arrow weapon system and interceptors was IAI's MALAM Division, and Israeli partners included IAI's ELTA Division (in charge of the Radar surveillance system) and Elbit Systems' Elisra Division (in charge of the fire management system). Boeing of the USA, a strategic partner in the development of the Arrow-III system, also contributed to the development of various components of the innovative interceptor.

Apart from the defensive tier provided by the Arrow-III system, the development of the Arrow-II system continues, while the other new defensive tier, provided by the David's Sling system, is intended to intercept missiles that managed to penetrate the upper tiers – Arrow-III and Arrow-II. The primary function of this system is to intercept medium-range missiles such as Fajr-3 and Fajr-5, as well as cruise missiles (such as those the Iranians are currently developing). Rafael Advanced Defense Systems leads the project in cooperation with Raytheon of the USA.

There is no need to elaborate on the next defensive tier, provided by Rafael's Iron Dome system, as practically every child is familiar with its name. It is important to stress, however, that this system, too, is undergoing constant improvement, upgrading and development processes. The Iron Dome system is intended to deal with relatively short-range missiles, but it is not the lowest defensive tier. MAFAT is currently working with the industries on a point-defense system, possibly against such threats as mortar bombs and particularly short-range Qassam missiles.

And what about the enemy? Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, for their part, are hard at work in an attempt to develop a solution capable of overcoming Israel's multi-tier defense system. In all probability, this technological race will never end.