In the wake of the apparently stellar performance of the Iron Dome short-range missile defense system during Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel is set to carry out a critical test of an interceptor for its next-generation missile defense system, dubbed David’s Sling, which is designed to intercept projectiles with ranges of up to 300 kilometers (180 miles), the Boston Globe reported on Saturday.
The system, which is jointly developed by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and US-based Raytheon Co., is reportedly on schedule for deployment in 2014.
The upcoming test of the system will pit its “Stunner” interceptor against a dummy missile in the skies over the Negev Desert, the report said.
One major difference between the system and the much-hailed Iron Dome is that David’s Sling, named after the famous weapon in the biblical David and Goliath story, fires interceptor missiles that can be redirected in mid-flight, correcting for changes in the trajectory of their targets.
Another advantage lies in David’s Sling’s ability to hit faster-moving targets than the relatively crude rockets fired by Hamas and other groups in Gaza. These abilities would enable the system to counter the missiles that are held by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, many of which can fly faster than Hamas rockets, have a greater range — covering pretty much the entirety of Israel — and even contain guidance systems.
But the threat goes beyond Hezbollah, Gabriel Scheinmann, a visiting fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs in Washington, reportedly said. “There is also the threat of Scud missiles, especially if you are looking at what is going on in Syria.”
During the recent Operation Pillar of Defense, the IDF says, the Iron Dome system downed some 400 rockets that were fired at southern and central Israel by Hamas and other Gaza-based groups. In fact, the army claims a 90 percent success rate using that system.
Israel has also deployed the Arrow, a joint Israel-US system meant to shoot down longer-range missiles fired from Iran. The next generation of the Arrow, now in the development stage, is set to be deployed in 2016.
Dubbed the Arrow 3, the next generation will strike its target outside the atmosphere, intercepting missiles closer to their launch. Together, the two Arrow systems will provide two chances to strike down incoming missiles.
Israel has identified missile defense as a top priority, based on wartime experiences. In the first Gulf War some 20 years ago, Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles toward Israel. Several Patriot missile batteries — manufactured by Raytheon and stationed in Israel by the US military — failed to hit any of them.
Israeli defense officials believe the threat is growing. Israel’s military intelligence chief earlier this year estimated that 200,000 enemy missiles and rockets are aimed at Israel.
With David’s Sling, “we’ll be able to intercept threats at high altitude in enemy territories, not exactly over Israel,” said a Rafael official at the company plant in Carmiel, northern Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity under company guidelines. “We don’t want it falling on us, but over the enemy.”
Uzi Rubin, a former head of Israel’s missile defense program, said the system will fill a “significant gap” in Israel’s air defenses by protecting against many of the medium range missiles in Hezbollah and Syrian arsenals. It can also be deployed against low flying cruise missiles fired from longer distances.
“Once we finish David’s Sling and Iron Dome and the Arrow, then we’ll have the most advanced capability available to give a multilayer protection to Israeli citizens,” said the defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing classified information.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.