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Israel prepares to launch giant missile-detecting balloon over north

Sensors onboard the aerostat are meant to identify incoming long-range munitions; move comes amid ongoing efforts by the Israeli Air Force to improve aerial defenses

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

Israel is preparing to launch a massive new balloon equipped with an advanced missile and aircraft detection system into the northern sky, the Defense Ministry said Wednesday.

The deployment of the radar-based system, set to take place at an unspecified date shortly, comes as part of a general effort by the Israeli Air Force to improve the country’s air defenses, particularly in the north, due to the proliferation of Iranian drones and cruise missiles in the region.

The detection system, dubbed “Sky Dew,” is meant to be deployed at high altitudes in order to detect incoming long-range missiles, cruise missiles and drones, the ministry said.

Israel already maintains an array of radar systems to detect incoming threats, but the new aerostat is meant to complement and improve existing capabilities by placing the sensors at high altitude.

“The elevated sensor system provides a significant technological and operational advantage for early and precise threat detection,” said Boaz Levy, CEO of the Israel Aerospace Industries, which helped develop the system.

“This technology increases the reliability of the aerial surveillance picture, and increases efficiency against a range of targets,” he said.

The Sky Dew aerostat, one of the largest of its kind, was developed in a joint venture by Israel’s Missile Defense Organization and the United States’ Missile Defense Agency over the course of several years. In recent months, the system has undergone final testing and was being prepared for operational deployment over northern Israel.

A massive blimp containing an advanced radar system that Israel plans to deploy into the skies over northern Israel to detect incoming missiles and drones, as seen at its home base on November 3, 2021. (Defense Ministry)

“In several flight test campaigns conducted in recent months, we have demonstrated the outstanding capabilities of Israel’s multi-tier missile defense — including against cruise missiles,” the director of Israel’s Missile Defense Organization, Moshe Patel, said.

Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin hailed the new system, saying it would “enable us to build a more accurate and broader air surveillance picture.”

He added: “The IAF has both the defensive and offensive systems to defend the State of Israel and its sovereignty.”

Vice Admiral Jon Hill, the director of the American Missile Defense Agency, said the system was aimed at shoring up Israel’s “qualitative military edge,” a technical term referring to the country’s superiority in the region, which the US is legally required to uphold.

The Israeli military fears that in the coming years that superiority may be tested as Iranian-made and -designed drones and cruise missiles flood the Middle East, representing a greater threat to Israel than the simple rockets that terror groups in the region have possessed until now.

In light of this threat, the IDF intends to have full, permanent defensive coverage in place over the airspace of northern Israel within the next two years, with plans to eventually expand it to the entire country.

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