The Israeli Air Force has begun training its first class of mid-range missile-defense operators, a significant step toward the completion of a multi-tiered missile-defense system, the Defense Ministry announced on Monday.
“The vision that was laid out a decade ago, today becomes a reality,” Yair Ramati, the head of the Israel Missile Defense Organization at the ministry, said at the launch of the inaugural course.
The David’s Sling missile-defense system, also known as Magic Wand, was designed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and the US defense firm Raytheon to thwart rockets and missiles fired from between 100-300 kilometers (62-186 miles) away — a pivotal range that includes most of Hezbollah’s strategic weapons arsenal.
Israel currently has two main operational systems: The Iron Dome, also developed by Rafael, has proven uniquely effective against short-range threats, with an interception rate of roughly 85 percent during two campaigns against Hamas; and the Arrow 2, jointly developed with the US, was designed to address long-range ballistic threats, but has not yet been called into action in real time.
The training course is being held at Rafael’s headquarters in Israel, with soldiers and commanders and crews from Patriot anti-aircraft batteries, Iron Dome, and Arrow 2. “We reckon that the system’s first battery will be formed within the coming year,” Maj. Gilad Malka, the commander of the inaugural course, told the IAF website, hinting that the system, which has passed a series of tests, will be operational within a year.
The head of the David’s Sling project at Rafael, whose name was given as Shlomo, called the start of the course “another significant milestone on the path to becoming operational.”
Israeli cities came under fire during the First Gulf War in January 1991, but the IDF General Staff and the Defense Ministry did not at first consider air defense to be a central component of Israel’s military doctrine. That changed after the withdrawal from Gaza and the Second Lebanon War, when large swaths of the country’s civilian population came under fire.
Hezbollah today is said to possess over 100,000 rockets, with the more deadly projectiles falling into the range protected by David’s Sling.
“There’s no doubt that this is a historic day,” Brig. Gen. Shachar Shochat, the commander of the IAF’s Air Defense Wing, told the IAF site. “The sand has started to run through the hourglass.”