Israel and the United States successfully shot down a target with the Arrow 3 ballistic missile interceptor on Thursday morning, the first validation of the advanced system’s capabilities, the Defense Ministry said.
The ministry said that the interceptor successfully calculated and engaged the launched target, in what was called “a major milestone” for Israel’s missile defense system capabilities.
“The missile successfully tracked the target and killed it,” said Yair Ramati, director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization.
The Arrow 3 is designed to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere, intercepting the weapons and their nuclear, biological or chemical warheads close to their launch sites.
Yoav Turgeman, the general manager of the Israel Aerospace Industry’s missile division, which developed the system, said the trial was “a perfect test.”
“We launched the Arrow 3 and, for the first time with the Arrow 3, we have intercepted the right target, very accurately, as planned,” Turgeman said.
The interceptor was launched from the Palmahim air base in central Israel at an incoming missile fired by an air force jet toward the waters off Israel’s coast, the ministry said.
Ramati said the test took place at 8:12 a.m.
Similar tests have sometimes caught Israelis off guard and caused minor panics in the urban center of the country.
The Arrow 3, which Israel has been developing with the United States since 2008, is a major part of the multi-layered air defense array that Israel has designed to protect itself against a range of missile threats — from short-range rockets fired from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, to longer-range threats like a missile launch from Iran.
It serves as the uppermost layer of a system that also includes the Iron Dome short-range interceptor, David’s Sling medium-range battery and Arrow 2 long-range system.
The Arrow 3 missile interceptors are designed to intercept more than five ballistic missiles within 30 seconds at altitudes of over 100 kilometers (62 miles).
High-altitude interceptions are meant to safely destroy an incoming nuclear, biological or chemical warhead, before its target or trajectory is identified.
The Arrow 3 is being developed by the Israel Missile Defense Organization from the Defense Ministry’s research and development directorate and the US Missile Defense Agency.
Ramati said the system was specifically developed with Israel’s needs in mind.
Israel and the United States may now be the only countries capable of shooting down ballistic missiles in space, he said.
Though this test was a major success for the system’s development, the Arrow 3 will still need to go through additional trials before it is deployed.
“There are additional flight tests, which we will do as soon as we can,” Ramati said.
Ultimately, the decision on deployment depends on the production of the necessary hardware and an agreement with the Israeli Air Force, which will operate the system, Ramati said.
A similar attempt to shoot down an incoming target conducted a year ago 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.
“The target scene was not satisfactory to meet test objectives and therefore an interceptor was not launched. A decision was made to conduct a target test only,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement following the failed test last year.
A test of the system’s earlier version, the Arrow 2, also failed to lock on to its target during a September 2014 trial.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.