from the November 2002 issue

Israeli Arrow ABM System is Operational as War Clouds Darken

Military analysts generally agree that when the US attacks Iraq, Saddam Husein's first response will be to order a missile attack against Israel. Unlike 1991 when 39 Iraqi Al Husein Scuds landed in Israel, mostly in the Tel-Aviv area, this time it is expected that the missiles will carry warheads armed with lethal chemical and biological agents, with a mass destruction potential.

Israel's main deterrence against the dangers from a "dirty" missile attack is its $2.0 billion Arrow Anti Ballistic Missile. Its development began in the early 1990s and in 1998 it had its first successful deployment. The Arrow is the world's only first ABM system, which is specifically developed to destroy incoming missiles. The Arrow Missile is a defense system against medium-range ballistic missiles. It can intercept missiles within a wide spectrum of ranges and altitudes, and can provide protection over large areas. Specifically it is designed to intercept medium- and short-range missiles, not intercontinental missiles, in keeping with Israel's perception of its exposure to Iraqi and possibly Iranian missiles. The latter on the verge of fielding the Shahab-3, which will have the range to strike Israel.

Simultaneously the system handles dozens of threats through multi-target racking and interception capabilities. In 1998 Israel successfully conducted the first comprehensive test launch of the Arrow system designed to shoot down incoming missiles at speeds up to two miles per second traveling 10 or 25 miles above the earth's surface. A test launch in 1998, lasted for 97 seconds, and was deemed as most successful. US officials observing the test were most pleased and said everything went smoothly. The Arrow's main contractor is one of Israel Aircraft Industries factories. The "green pine" firing system is produced by Elta, and the "golden citron" control module is made by Tadiran.

Fully developed in Israel, with American assistance, the Arrow is expected to provide the country with a security net that will extend over most of its major cities, including its most populous centers, between Haifa and Ashdod and including Tel-Aviv. The Arrow Missile Project has acquired several dimensions, among them are its deterrence aspect while its political implications are high on the list. Over the past decade, localized skirmishes including the bombing of Libya and the "Scudding" of Israel by Iraq during Desert Sand, as well as Iran's acknowledged missile capability, have created a pressing need for a security net.

Reporters were recently invited to visit the highly guarded Palmahim Air Force Base, nestled on Israel's Mediterranean shoreline. Knowledgeable Israelis are aware that the Palmahim Air Force Base first earned a reputation as the proving grounds for the development of Israeli RPVs. The remotely piloted vehicles are small pilotless planes that can fly over designated targets and transmit a real time pictures of the area they scan. They detected the exact position of SAM-9 Syrian missile bases in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley more than a decade ago. These bases were rendered inoperative by the Israel Air Force, removing a major threat to the security of this country.

At Palmahim the IAF has deployed its operational missile defense, ready to use to protect Tel Aviv and other major population centers if they come under fire from Iraq's arsenal of Scud missiles. One Arrow battery has been operational at the Palmachim base for two years. The deployment of the second battery in central Israel was delayed when the citizens who lived nearby complained that the radar might endanger their health. The Israelis are trying to make the second battery operational before any U.S. attack on Iraq. As a stopgap, the Arrow missile launchers from the second battery can be linked to the Palmachim battery to upgrade its capability, an Israeli military official said.

The Arrow, system is designed to avoid the shortcomings of the American Patriot system, which Israelis know was unsuccessful in stopping Scud missile attacks by Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War. At Palmahim crews were engaged in intensive training in operating the Arrow ABMs in chemically contaminated areas. Wearing the ABC, Israeli slang for Atomic, Biological and Chemical gas masks and protective suits, they repeated the operation over and over again, including tracking, aiming and firing. Past experience indicates that the time it takes for a Scud, launched from southern Iraq to reach Israel, is about 8-9 minutes. In practice Israel depends on notification from American satellites that a Scud has been launched. The Arrow's tracking system identifies and locks onto the missile and at the optimal point the ABM missile is released. Unlike the Patriot system used in the Gulf War, whose fire control system is essentially automated, the Israeli system leaves it to officers to decide when to fire the Arrow interceptor. At a firing site, massive launchers, each loaded with six Arrow interceptors, stand at the ready while Israeli radar scans the skies.

"We did a lot of testing and most were successful," said Danny Peretz, the program manager for the Arrow at Israel Aircraft Industries, the prime contractor of the system. "But we know in our hearts, and put it into the design, that this weapon will be tested fully only in war."

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report November 2002

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