Arrow 3 missile test called off over safety concerns

System was supposed to shoot down simulated ballistic missile, but target ‘didn’t meet safety codes,’ Defense Ministry says

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

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

The Defense Ministry called off a test of its Arrow 3 missile defense system on Monday, in light of a safety violation concerning the simulated target.

“The trial was called off at an early stage, after the target that was launched did not meet the safety codes of the test, which had been set in advance,” the ministry said in a statement.

Defense Ministry officials said the target, known as the Black Sparrow, which was supposed to simulate an incoming ballistic missile, did not fly at the proper altitude and so an interception could have put nearby aircraft at risk.

In light of the issue with the target, the trial was declared a “no test” by the chief engineer, which ministry officials said is distinct from a failed test, as the Arrow 3 interceptor missile was never launched.

The ministry launched an investigation into why the Black Sparrow missile did not function properly.

The Arrow 3 missile defense system that was delivered to the Israeli Air Force on January 18, 2017. (Defense Ministry)

The Arrow 3 system, which was declared operational in January, represents the highest level of Israel’s multi-tiered missile defense network.

The system, which was developed in a joint Israeli-American program, is designed to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere, taking out projectiles and their nuclear, biological, chemical or conventional warheads closer to their launch sites. It is a more advanced version of the Arrow and Arrow 2 systems.

It is considered to be one of the most powerful 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 manufactured by the missile division of the Israel Aerospace Industry.

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

File: An Iron Dome battery seen near the southern Israeli town of Netivot on December 27, 2014. (Talucho/Flash90)

It is complemented by a number of other missile defense systems, designed to protect Israel from short-, medium- and long-range attacks. The Iron Dome, for instance, is routinely used to knock down short-range rockets from the Gaza Strip. The David’s Sling, deployed earlier this year, is designed to intercept medium-range missiles.

With the Arrow 3 system declared operational, Israel and the United States are thought to 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 earlier this year.

In 2014, a test of the system in which it attempted to shoot down an incoming target failed, with the test being changed at the last minute from a real-world “engagement test,” in which the system would actually 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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