Air force gets first Arrow 3 missile defense battery
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Air force gets first Arrow 3 missile defense battery

Israel enters 'new age' as US-Israeli system designed to shoot down ballistic missiles goes operational

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

The Israeli Air Force received its first Arrow 3 missile defense system on Wednesday, a little over a year after its first real-world test, the Defense Ministry said.

After years of development and testing, the system is now considered operational, though it will continue to undergo checks and improvements, the ministry said.

“We’re entering a new age — the age of the Arrow 3,” Moshe Patel, the head of Israel’s missile defense program, said at the unveiling ceremony for the system.

“Today, we delivered to the air force the first Arrow 3 interceptor, with interception capabilities that are much greater and can be done from much farther away than anything that we have now,” Patel said.

From right, Moshe Patel, David Ivri, Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch, Boaz Levi, Danny Gold and Brig. Gen. William Cooley stand in front of a Arrow 3 missile defense system that was delivered to the Israeli Air Force on January 18, 2017. (Defense Ministry)
From right, Moshe Patel, David Ivri, Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch, Boaz Levi, Danny Gold and Brig. Gen. William Cooley stand in front of a Arrow 3 missile defense system that was delivered to the Israeli Air Force on January 18, 2017. (Defense Ministry)

The Arrow 3, which was developed in a joint Israeli-American program, is designed to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere, taking out the weapons and their nuclear, biological, chemical or conventional warheads closer to their launch sites.

The system is considered to be one of the most advanced in the world. Its design is the brainchild of the Defense Ministry’s Israel Missile Defense Organization and the US Missile Defense Agency, but the system was actually produced by the missile division of the Israel Aerospace Industry.

The Arrow 3 has been in development for nearly a decade, starting in 2008.

“The missile here, behind me, once sat on my drafting table. To see it here, delivered to the air force, is very emotional for me,” said Boaz Levi, vice president of IAI’s Systems, Missiles & Space Group.

The Arrow 3 missile is launched from Palmachim air base in central Israel on December 10, 2015. (Defense Ministry)
The Arrow 3 missile is launched from Palmachim air base in central Israel on December 10, 2015. (Defense Ministry)

The Arrow 3 is one part of a multi-layered missile defense system designed to protect Israel from short-, medium- and long-range attacks. The Iron Dome, for instance, is routinely used to knock down short-range missiles from the Gaza Strip. The yet-to be deployed David’s Sling is designed to intercept medium-range missiles.

“I am sure that this system, along with the others that we have and that will join our arsenal in the future, like the David’s Sling, will give us more effective and meaningful capabilities,” said Brig.-Gen. Tzvika Haimovich, head of the army’s Aerial Defense Command.

With the Arrow 3 system declared operational, Israel and the United States may now be the only countries capable of shooting down ballistic missiles in space.

Many of the systems shared by the Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 — notably the radar and command-and-control systems — have also been upgraded, ahead of the Arrow 3’s full integration into the air force’s arsenal.

“Along with the Arrow 2 system, this will add interception opportunities that will lessen the chances of a strike against the State of Israel,” the ministry said.

One test that attempted to shoot down an incoming target conducted in 2014 failed, with the test being changed at the last minute from a real-world “engagement test,” in which the system would attempt to shoot down an incoming missile, to a far less dramatic target-tracking exercise.

In December 2015, Israel and the United States successfully shot down a target with the Arrow 3 ballistic missile interceptor, the first validation of the advanced system’s abilities.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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