Gantz: 'We will defend Israeli skies from any threat'

Israel, US test upgraded Arrow 2 missile, capable of intercepting incoming nukes

Weapon to defend against long-range projectiles shoots down target off Israeli coast in ‘perfect’ simulation, Defense Ministry says

Israel and the United States completed a successful test of the advanced Arrow 2 air defense system late Wednesday night, shooting down a simulated long-range missile high over the Mediterranean Sea, defense officials said.

The system successfully intercepted the target, which behaved in a way similar to the types of weapons that Israel anticipates could be fired at it someday — like those made by Iran — and was affixed with an explosive warhead, according to Boaz Levy, vice president and head of the Systems, Missiles and Space Group at Israel Aerospace Industries, which manufactures the Arrow 2.

The platform was tested by the Defense Ministry’s Missile Defense Organization, the Israeli Air Force, IAI, and the US Missile Defense Agency. The test was carried out late Wednesday night from the Palmachim Air Base in central Israel.

“The test last night can be described in one word: perfect,” Moshe Patel, head of the MDO, told reporters Thursday morning.

An Arrow 2 interceptor missile is fired at an incoming target in a live-fire test on August 12, 2020. (Defense Ministry)

According to Patel, the incoming target was first detected by the Arrow’s radar system and that the Arrow 2 interceptor missile was fired “at the precise moment” it was meant to and detonated its explosive payload, completely destroying the target.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said of the test, “Our elite technological unit ensures that we will always be one step ahead of our enemies.”

“We will defend Israeli skies from any threat,” Gantz said.

With hundreds of thousands of rockets and missiles pointed at Israel from Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Iran, Israel maintains one of the world’s most advanced multi-tiered air defense systems, designed to intercept incoming short-, medium- and long-range missiles.

“Our enemies and those wishing us evil will know that the State of Israel is prepared for any threat,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, following Wednesday night’s test.

The Arrow system — made up of the Arrow, Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 interceptor missiles — represents the longest range of Israel’s air defense network, designed predominantly to shoot down ballistic and cruise missiles, including those that could be used to carry a nuclear warhead or other non-conventional munitions.

Though in recent years, the Defense Ministry has focused on testing and improving the Arrow 3, which was declared operational in January 2017, its Missile Defense Organization has continued to upgrade the Arrow 2, which is designed to intercept incoming missiles at slightly lower altitudes than the Arrow 3.

Patel said the Arrow 2 system has been upgraded five times over the course of its 20 years in use.

An Arrow 2 interceptor missile shoots down an incoming target in a live-fire test on August 12, 2020. (Defense Ministry)

According to Levy, the test late Wednesday night simulated an incoming missile that represented a threat that was between the capabilities of the two systems, coming in at the upper reaches of the Earth’s atmosphere and just beyond it. Though the Defense Ministry did not specify precisely at what altitude the system intercepted the target missile.

“During the test, the updated capabilities of the Arrow system to contend with current and future threats were validated,” the Defense Ministry said.

Last summer, Israel and the US successfully tested the Arrow 3 system.

According to Levy, the target intercepted by the Arrow 2 on Wednesday night was the same type as was shot down by the Arrow 3 over Alaska last summer.

An image of Israel and the US’s test launch of the Arrow 3 missile defense system on July 28, 2019. (Defense Ministry)

The Arrow 3 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 — and farther from Israel.

The Arrow 2 was first rolled out in March 2000. Its first reported operational use was in March 2017 against a Syrian surface-to-air missile that was fired at Israeli aircraft. Reports at the time said the missile cost nearly NIS 3 million (some $827,000).

The lowest layer of Israel’s multi-tiered missile defense system is the Iron Dome, capable of shooting down short-range rockets, small unmanned aerial vehicles and some mortar shells like those that are fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip or from southern Lebanon.

The middle tier of the missile defense array is the David’s Sling system, which is designed to shoot down medium-range projectiles.

But even with the full complement of missile defense systems, defense officials warn that it is not a hermetic seal and some rockets will inevitably slip past the defenses.

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