Air Defense: The Sling Survives Initial Service

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January 17, 2019: The new Israeli David’s Sling (formerly Magic Wand) anti-aircraft system has successfully completed its first year in service. The system, which is similar to the American Patriot, is designed mainly for anti-missile defense. Patriot was designed initially as an anti-aircraft system and later had anti-missile capabilities added. So while Patriot and David’s Sling may seem similar the Israeli system used the current Patriot system as a starting point and basically created a much improved (in terms of radars, fire control and anti-missile missiles) version. In 2018 David’s Sling had plenty of opportunities to track missiles headed towards Israel from Syria. Some were anti-aircraft missiles that had missed their targets and were coming to earth on a ballistic trajectory (which is normal) that appeared to end up in Israel. In July 2018 two Syrian SS-21 ballistic missiles were detected headed for Israel and David’s Sling was used to intercept them. It turned out that the SS-21s were aimed at targets on the Syrian side of the border but very close to the border and the SS-21 uses an older Russian designed inertial guidance system known to be inaccurate. Normally the SS-21 is supposed to land within 150 meters of the aiming point but the SS-21 system is often hundreds of meters off or fails altogether. The Syrian made (under license) SS-21s are elderly and not really suitable for targets (rebel fortifications) so close to the border. One of the SS-21s was intercepted on the Israeli side of the border and the other one on the Syrian side. David’s Sling is also used in southern Israel where it provides protection from the long range (over a hundred kilometers) Iranian rockets smuggled in for Hamas.

The Stunner missile David’s Sling uses has two stages and a max range of 300 kilometers. While optimized for missile interception Stunner also works against cruise missiles, large rockets and aircraft. David’s Sling completed a final round of final acceptance tests in January 2017 and it entered service three months later. At the same time, Israeli and American firms that manufacture (and often design) many of the key components for Stunner have developed a variant of Stunner (SkyCeptor) that can be used in Patriot systems in place of the PAC-3 anti-missile missile. Stunner is designed for short range (500 kilometers) ballistic missiles. The longer the range of a ballistic missile the faster the warhead is when coming down towards the target. Those longer-range missiles require a more powerful radar and faster interceptor (with a more capable guidance system) to stop. American firms that developed Patriot components worked with Israeli firms to develop David’s Sling.

This David’s Sling deployment was delayed several times by testing that showed 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.

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 used, and had extensive combat experience with. 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 (for longer range ballistic missiles, like those fired from Iran). 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 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.

Since American firms build a lot of David’s Sling components it is easier for Israel to increase Stunner production quickly because so much of can be done in the United States. 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. 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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