Air Defense: Arrow 3 Enters Service


January 29, 2017: At the end of 2016 Israeli Arrow anti-missile units began receiving the first production models of the Arrow 3. This comes after several years of successful tests. The last major test was in late 2015 when an Arrow 3 was successfully demonstrated its new ability to hit an incoming missile trying to hide among decoys. Success in this test overcame the doubts created when Arrow 3 failed a similar test in late 2014. It took over a year to figure out what went wrong there and come up with a fix. In early 2014 there was a successful test of Arrow 3 and it was believed that this would result in Arrow 3 entering service in 2015. That did not happen because of the failure later in 2014. Getting Arrow 3 into service is important because it can destroy missiles at higher altitudes (over 100 kilometers) and farther away. That’s what it failed to do in late 2014 but succeeded at in 2015. It was only in February 2013 that Israel conducted the first tests of Arrow 3. That followed the successful testing of the then new Block 4 version of its Arrow 2 in 2012. After a few more tweaks version 4.1 was in service by late 2013.

The 2013 Arrow tests also confirmed the effectiveness of new detection capabilities of the Green Pine radar. The improved Green Pine radar entered service in 2012 and the Block 4 version provided greater accuracy and the ability to intercept missiles farther away. Block 4 was in development since at least 2007.

The Arrow system has been in service since 2000 and has racked up an impressive string of successes in test launches. Designed to deal with short and medium range ballistic missiles, it was built to protect Israel from Syrian and Iranian attack. Israel now has three Arrow batteries in service. An Arrow battery has 4-8 launchers and each launcher carries six missiles in containers. The two ton Arrow 1 has been replaced with the 1.3 ton Arrow 2, which can shoot down ballistic missiles fired from Iran and these are being augmented with Arrow 3s.

The United States has long shared the expense of developing Arrow and this includes contributing over a hundred million dollars for work on the Arrow 3. More than half of the nearly three billion dollar cost of developing and building Arrow has come from the Americans. In addition, U.S. firms have done some of the development work or contributed technology. The U.S. has also provided Israel with a mobile X-band radar that enables it to detect incoming ballistic missiles farther away.

Initially the Israeli Green Pine radar can only detect a ballistic missile fired from Iran when the missile warhead is about two minutes from hitting a target in Israel. The X-band radar allows the Iranian missile to be spotted when it is 5-6 minutes away, enabling the Israeli missile to hit the Iranian warhead farther away and with greater certainty. The Arrow 3 is expected to need something like the X-band radar to take advantage of the longer missile range. The Arrow 3 could also use satellite or UAV warnings of distant ballistic missile launches. Arrow 3 weighs about half as much as Arrow 2 and costs about a third less.

In 2010, Israel began increasing the production of its Arrow missiles. Costing over three million dollars each, and partly constructed in the United States (by Boeing), the Arrow missiles are one of the few proven anti-missile systems available. Since Arrow entered service several hundred missiles have been built or ordered. Currently Israel has nearly 200 Arrow missiles available and would like to double that that by the end of the decade. For the moment the ballistic missile threat from Syria is gone and that makes life even more difficult for Iran.

The existence of Arrow means that the only way Iran could successfully hit Israel with a nuke via missile would be to simultaneously (or nearly so) launch several dozen missiles each equipped with a nuclear warhead. Most of these would be shot down by Arrow but at least one would probably land in Israel and detonate. This would be foolhardy because Israel has over a hundred nukes that can be delivered to Iran by ballistic missile, aircraft and submarine launched cruise missile. The Iranians tend to be sensible, but the rhetoric coming from senior Iranian leaders is anything but when it comes to attacking Israel with nukes. In the 1930s the world thought the Germans were sensible people, and Jews everywhere still remember how that turned out. So Israel is ready to defend itself and retaliate.




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