A new mid- to long-range missile interceptor being developed by Israel successfully shot down a rocket in its first test Sunday, taking a major step toward completing Israel’s missile defense shield, the Defense Ministry said.
The David’s Sling, with an operational range of 70-200 kilometers, will complement Israel’s Iron Dome short-range and Arrow long-range missile defense systems.
The Iron Dome system became the darling of Israel last week as it shot down hundreds of rockets, often in quick succession, during the country’s eight-day engagement with the Gaza Strip.
The David’s Sling system, designed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Raytheon, is to be capable of taking down missiles with warheads of up to half a ton.
The test was conducted the same day that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to rain down missiles on the entirety of Israel, “from Kiryat Shmona to Eilat.”
The Lebanon-based group is thought to have an arsenal of thousands of rockets and missiles, many of them supplied by Iran via Syria, that would threaten much of the country in a war. In 2006, a month-long war with the terror group saw thousands of Katyusha rockets launched against towns in Israel’s north.
According to Channel 10, the missile-interception test was conducted in southern Israel and targeted missiles similar to Hezbollah’s arsenal. The battery notched a higher than 90% success rate.
The Defense Ministry intends to purchase 12 David’s Sling batteries once they become operational in 2013 or 2014, according to Channel 10.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the success of Iron Dome highlighted the “immense importance” of such systems.
One major difference between the new 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 held by 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, told the Boston Globe. “There is also the threat of Scud missiles, especially if you are looking at what is going on in Syria.”
During 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. 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. “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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.