Tel Aviv - Israeli air force air and missile defenses are to be combined and reorganized to better protect the entire nation. Under this doctrine, defense of Israel’s skies will combine all forces designated to intercept enemy aircraft with all the assets allocated to intercept missiles, regardless of range. The multilayered, active defense will be run by a centralized interception-management center, which will also provide the common air picture that enables aircraft and interceptor missiles to safely coexist.
The philosophy of active defense—grouping the air, rocket and missile defense capabilities—underpins the new defensive concept, which also includes early-warning, passive defense and counter-strike capabilities. The air force’s operational structure will be similar to that used for aircraft, with the entire air-defense layout operating according to tasks assigned to units, rather than according to geographic deployment.
The new formation of the air-defense command reflects the fact that Israel’s air and missile defense assets must share the sky with fighters, helicopters, transports and unmanned aircraft, and coexist with civilian aviation flying national and international routes. Under old operational concepts, surface-to-air (SAM) sites were assigned “restricted zones” to protect strategic sites during wartime, leaving air force fighters to secure the majority of Israel’s airspace.
Now, modern active defenses are called on to maintain constant alert and initiate target engagement at very long distances, with missile trajectories passing safely through “live” airspace. With assets allocated throughout the country and covering extremely long ranges, the air-defense command will be able to better defend Israeli airspace, regardless of where its weapons are deployed.
Based on the current inventory of air-defense systems, the new deployment will maintain one air-defense wing and one rocket and missile-defense wing. The air-defense assets currently deployed are the MIM-23 Improved Hawk PIP3 and MIM-104 Patriot, both produced by Raytheon. Tactical air defenses are provided by MIM-92A Stinger missiles deployed on improved M163 mobile air defense guns.
The missile-defense wing maintains two principal assets, the Sword Shield unit operating the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Arrow 2 ASIP (improved versions from the Arrow System Improvement Program, or ASIP) since 1998, and the new Iron Dome unit, equipped with three Rafael Iron Dome counter-rocket, artillery and missile (C-RAM) systems.
The two systems were developed in Israel to meet specific requirements, distinctive to Israel at the time. The Arrow was designed to intercept Scud-type medium-range ballistic missiles, acquired by Iraq and Syria, while the Iron Dome, operational since 2011, was developed to defend against terrorist rocket attacks.
The Arrow 2 is designed to intercept ballistic missiles as they reenter the atmosphere in their terminal phase. Unlike the modern air-defense missiles employing hit-to-kill interceptors, the Arrow 2 introduced an “aimable” warhead to increase hit probability when passing the target at extremely high closing speed. The Arrow 2 ASIP represents the latest evolution of the Arrow system, capable of intercepting faster targets, launched from longer ranges. This capability was demonstrated in February 2011 against a target representing an Iranian Shahab 3 missile.
The next step in its evolution is the Arrow 3 exo-atmospheric missile interceptor, currently in development and about to undergo its first test. With a thrust-vectoring kill vehicle designed for hit-to-kill intercept, Arrow 3 will provide the upper tier in Israeli missile defenses, engaging hostile missiles in space, in their midcourse phase. The upper-layer intercept will significantly improve the defensive capability of the integrated system. The missile will be operated with existing Arrow assets, implementing the more flexible “shoot-shoot-look-shoot” intercept strategy over the linear “shoot-look-shoot” strategy currently guiding the Arrow.
Another important change will take place in 2013, as the new David’s Sling missile system, in final developmental testing at Rafael, reaches initial operational capability (IOC). Unlike the task-specific Arrow 2 and Iron Dome, David’s Sling was developed as a flexible, multipurpose weapon system capable of engaging aircraft, cruise missiles, ballistic and guided missiles. The interceptor missile is designed for land-based, maritime and airborne applications. A common missile, called Stunner, is fitted with a dual-band imaging infrared and radio-frequency seeker, as well as a multi-pulse rocket motor enabling all-weather operation and powerful kinematics, including endgame maneuverability at extended ranges.
David’s Sling will initially deploy with the air force’s air-defense wing, replacing the Hawk missiles. The air force’s is planning to field even more systems, as Patriot systems are phased out, enabling the air-defense command to fully integrate into the airspace defense with the new networked assets.
The Stunner missile has been demonstrated in test flights and the current phase will enable the team to expand testing of the entire system under the original development schedule. The system could reach IOC in 2013.
The system’s primary role will be to intercept medium- and long-range ballistic and guided rockets, such as the Fajr-5 and M-600, a Syrian copy of the Iranian Fateh-110, carrying half-ton warheads. These threats have a range of about 300 km (185 mi.). Other targets to be taken out by David’s Sling are intermediate-range ballistic missiles such as the Iranian BM-25, and the new Yakhont supersonic cruise missile, recently introduced by Syria.
The Yakhont threat would be held at risk by another air defense system developed in Israel—IAI’s Barak 8. The missile is designed to replace the existing Barak 1 point defense missile system deployed on the Israeli Saar 5 corvettes, providing extended networked air-defense protecting naval forces or offshore installations over a large area. Unlike the Arrow and David’s Sling, Barak 8 was developed without U.S. support and was designed primarily for the export market. Conceived mainly as a naval air-defense missile, Barak 8 is the cornerstone of the Indian Medium- and Long-Range SAM (MR-SAM/LR-SAM), a collaborative project undertaken by IAI and the Indian Defense Research & Development Organization (DRDO). The missile’s first flight test was in 2010 and the entire system is scheduled to enter developmental testing in Israel and India early this year. The weapon qualification program will include eight test firings.
Elements of the system have been delivered to India for installation on the new Kolkata-class (Project 15A) guided missile destroyers. The Israeli navy is trailing with its Saar 5B modernization plan, lacking a clear decision on the platform, contractor and weapon system. Promoting the system as a potential replacement of the existing Barak 1, IAI has developed a smaller assembly employing electronically scanning radar using a rotating single-plane design.
An important asset enabling full integration is the early warning and selective interception capability introduced with Israel’s new missile and C-RAM systems. Versions of the EL/M-2084 multimission target-acquisition radars operated with Iron Dome units, and to be included with future David’s Sling systems, detect and project the impact points of targets as soon as tracks are initiated.
Using phased-array technology, these radars support the different defensive layers, including early warning, providing for rapid alert for the civil population. The ability to predict an incoming missile’s impact point minutes before it actually strikes is key to Israel’s ability to deal with the affordability challenge of active defense. Secondly, this capability enables the missile defense units to ignore those rockets that will fall in open areas, focusing their attention and interceptor assets only at those targets posing the highest risk. It also enables the system to engage high-priority targets with more than one missile and at several points along its trajectory, maximizing the probability of interceptions.
The Israel air force is planning to deploy a fourth battery of Iron Dome in coming months and is mulling stationing it in Haifa Bay to protect Israel’s industrial hub. The defense ministry has a budget to manufacture an additional three Iron Dome batteries by the end of 2012. IAF operational requirements call for the deployment of about a dozen batteries along Israel’s northern and southern borders. Furthermore, Rafael is also proposing a seeker-less version of Iron Dome called Iron Flame to be used in counter-fire missions, attacking the launch sites of terrorists’ multiple-launch rocket systems.
With Iran considered by U.S. and Israeli intelligence to be on its way to obtaining a nuclear weapon, the allies are planning to hold their largest-ever joint exercise aimed at testing their common defense against ballistic missiles. The joint drills, dubbed Juniper Cobra and Austere Challenge, were to take place early this year but now are scheduled to take place in April or May, or possibly later. They will simulate Israel’s ballistic missile defense in action as part of a coalition operation.
The U.S. plans to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system for the drills. In such a scenario, Thaad could complement the Israeli Arrow missiles with high-altitude capabilities. In its U.S. deployment, Thaad complements the lower-altitude domain of the Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC‑3) antimissile system. The drills also will include the establishment of an Israeli command post at U.S. European Command headquarters in Germany.