Israel put the Middle East on high alert this morning after testing its Arrow 3 missile defense system in an exercise described as a joint missile test with the United States.
After Russian sensors in the city of Armavir detected the test, media reported the launch of two missiles on the eastern part of the Mediterranean. Given the timing with the U.S. moving toward military action in Syria, some outlets are suggesting Israel is alerting its enemies of its defense capabilities.
We already know about Israel’s Iron Dome program, but the Arrow defense system seems to be for bigger projectile weaponry, like ballistic missiles.
Here’s what you should know about Israel’s Arrow 3 missile defense system.
1. The System Is Produced by Boeing & Israel Aerospace Industries
The Arrow 3 missile defense system is co-produced by the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Boeing specifically for the Israeli Ministry of Defense. Boeing is responsible for 15-20 percent of the development content and 40-50 percent of the production content. Boeing’s role involves producing motor cases, shroud, canister, Safe & Arm / Ignition Devices, batteries, Inertial Navigation Units, as well as several avionics packages and actuators & valves. The IAI is responsible for system integration and final interceptor assembly at its Huntsville, Alabama production facility.
Israel, in partnership with the U.S., has been working on the defense system since 2008. As tensions between Western nations and Iran continued to rise earlier this year, Israel stepped up the development and testing of the anti-ballistic missile weapon.
2. It Destroys Its Targets With Fragmentation Warheads
Part of what makes the Arrow system so successful is its use of a fragmentation warhead. Although many other systems rely on a shock wave from an explosive to detour or destroy a target, a fragmentation weapon works much like a grenade, exploding and sending pieces of its casing into the intended recipient at a high velocity. This system is not only more effective for missile defense systems due to its greater lethal range, but it is also cheaper, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
This is how Boeing explains how the system works:
Arrow 3, also a two-stage interceptor, will destroy an incoming target with an exo-atmospheric kill vehicle and provide additional defense capability for evolving threats.
3. The Arrow Missile Defense Program Started in 1986
The Arrow missile defense program was spearheaded in the mid-’80s in Israel under the financial support of the United States. The system’s development came after the procurement of long-range surface-to-surface missiles by nearby Arab states. The U.S. and Israel signed a “memorandum of understanding” on May 6, 1986, which outlined an agreement to co-fund and produce the Arrow program.
The cost of the program was very high, sitting at $1.6 billion. Adding to that bill was the reality that each missile cost an estimated $3 million. An additional $2.4 billion was invested into the system between 1989 and 2007, with 58-80 percent of that covered by U.S. funding.
The Arrow 1 missile defense system was first successfully tested on August 9, 1990, when it intercepted and destroyed a dummy missile using its control and guidance systems. It was first put into action by the U.S. military in the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
Arrow 2 was successfully tested in February 1996, confirming the program’s steering, control and cruising system capabilities.
The U.S. and Israeli governments began the development of the current Arrow 3 system in August 2008 to combat advanced missile development by enemy nations, like Iran. Its purpose is to intercept and destroy incoming ballistic missiles. The defense weapon involves eight pieces that work in unison to maximize the system’s effectiveness: a 6-canister Arrow launcher, the “Golden Citron” C3 command center, a communications center, the “Brown Hazelnut” launch control center, “Green Pine” radar antenna, radar power control center, radar power unit, and a radar cooling unit. View image about for an illustration of the system’s elements.
The director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency is confident in the system’s defense capabilities:
The design of Arrow 3 promises to be an extremely capable system, more advanced than what we have ever attempted in the U.S. with our programs. […] This has to do with the seekers that have greater flexibility and other aspects, such as propulsion systems – it will be an extremely capable system.
4. The U.S. Has Contributed Roughly $2 Billion to the Program Since 1990
The Arrow missile defense program’s initial cost was $1.6 billion, with an additional $3 million per missile produced. The U.S. steadily increased its funding for the program, peaking just over $152 million in 2005. Since 1990, the U.S. has contributed over $2 billion to the defense system. The graphic above, from Wikipedia, displays U.S. contributions to the Arrow program by fiscal year.
5. No Other Country Has the Arrow Missile Defense System
The U.S. has made the Arrow missile defense system an exclusive program. Aside from Israel, no other state has been allowed to procure the system, including other close strategic allies like the United Kingdom, India and Japan. Israel did sell the “Green Pine” radar technology that the system uses to detect incoming missiles in 2005.
Jordan expressed interest in the missile defense system in the 1990s in fear of a conflict between Israel and Iraq or Iran, which it considered to be a potential threat to Jordanian territory. Jordan refused forward deployment of the Israeli assets in their territory. Israel filed a request with the U.S. to sell the system to the neighboring state, but no official response has been given.