Air Defense: David’s Sling Versus Iran

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September 3, 2017: In January 2017 Israel announced that it successfully completed a final round of tests for its David’s Sling (formerly Magic Wand) anti-aircraft system and would be able to begin deploying the first battery of the new weapon later in 2017. At the same time Israel and American firms that manufacture (and often design) many of the key components for Stunner have developed a variant of Stunner (marketed as SkyCeptor) that can be used in Patriot systems in place of the PAC-3 anti-missile missile. Poland is interested in the SkyCeptor for their new Patriot batteries. At the same time the new Arrow 3 completed its final tests and was cleared for mass production.

This David’s Sling deployment is a year later than expected because earlier testing had revealed some potential problems that required fixing. Israel is very exacting about such technical problems because these weapons are the first line of defense against threats that are very real and openly calling for the destruction of Israel. That attitude towards quality control also makes Israeli weapons easier to find export customers for.

David’s Sling is the Israeli replacement for existing American Patriot and Hawk systems and is expected to sell mainly to export customers. Only a few David’s Sling batteries can protect all of Israel and even with additional launchers and such Israel alone is not a sufficiently large market to sustain development and manufacturing for David’s Sling. That’s why David’s Sling was designed with anti-missile capabilities as well.

During 2015 Israel conducted several successful tests of David’s Sling, including some that involved included intercepting and destroying a short range ballistic missile and other targets representing manned aircraft. By late 2015 it was believed David’s Sling would be ready for deployment in 2016. But as happened several times before there were new technical problems that had to be fixed. David’s Sling was originally expected to enter service in 2014.

In development since 2006 David’s Sling was designed to be an improvement over American made Patriot systems Israel already has. The David’s Sling missile (called Stunner) has a longer range (300 kilometers) and better capabilities. The American manufacturer of Patriot is cooperating with an Israeli firm to develop and produce David’s Sling and long planned to adopt some David’s Sling features for Patriot upgrades and variant like SkyCeptor.

David’s Sling is meant to complement the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, which can take down rockets with a range of up to 70 kilometers, and the longer range Arrow 3. Iron Dome has a unique feature in which the radar system computes where the incoming rocket will land. If the rocket will not hit an inhabited area, it will be ignored. Otherwise, an interceptor missile will be fired. David’s Sling adopted some of that technology for its anti-missile mode. Stunner will be used against larger rockets that will be aimed (by Syria, Hamas or Hezbollah) at large urban areas, and these will almost always get a Stunner fired at them. This is part of the David’s Sling system for defending Israelis from rocket attacks. David’s Sling is expected to eventually replace the 17 Hawk anti-aircraft batteries as well and, eventually, the six Patriot batteries. David’s Sling is very similar to Patriot and one option is to pitch David’s Sling components as upgrades for existing Patriot equipment.

Because of the long range of the Stunner two David’s Sling batteries can cover all of Israel. A David’s Sling battalion would have three batteries each with six truck mounted launchers (each with four missiles), a radar vehicle and control vehicle. Israel revealed it has enough David’s Sling equipment to train operators and maintenance personnel but would not say when there would be enough equipment for two batteries to cover all of Israel.

The Arrow 3 could also use satellite or UAV warnings of distant ballistic missile launches. Arrow 3 weighs about half as much as the 1.5 ton Arrow 2 and costs about a third less. Arrow 3 has longer range and is considered capable of intercepting low orbit satellites. Arrow is a two stage system with much more complex electronics than Stunner.

Because the new Arrow 3 (now entering mass production) is also built with the help of many American subcontractors the dozens of American factories that produce components for Arrow 3, Stunner and SkyCeptor are preparing to increase production, in some cases, substantially. The United States has provided Israel with $3 billion for air-defense research since 2001 and a lot of that money went for manufacturing system components. A lot of that is produced in the United States. At the same time Israeli firms develop and produce key components for many American systems. This makes it easier for the U.S. to develop and manufacture their own versions of Israeli equipment or weapons that were part of this join production and tech ownership system.

 


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