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Missile Zone: Stepped Up Israeli ABM Tests Target Iran (Analysis)

Cross-hairs: Iran

Yesterday Yaakov Katz reported the positive news that Israel’s 3rd tier missile defense system known as Iron Dome had past a milestone by being successfully tested against multiple targets.

The Iron Dome missile defense system successfully intercepted a number of rockets that mimicked Kassam and short-range Grad-model Katyusha rockets in a series of tests the Defense Ministry conducted this week.

Iron Dome, under development by Rafael Defense Systems, is slated to become operational sometime in 2010 and to be capable of intercepting short-range Kassam and Katyusha rockets fired by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hizbullah in southern Lebanon. The Iron Dome uses an advanced radar that locates and tracks the rocket, which is then intercepted by a kinetic missile interceptor.

“A multilevel defense system is a strategic goal for the State of Israel and will provide a layer of protection against short-range rockets,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said. “This will allow the IDF to fulfill its obligation to protect Israel in the best way that it can.” [...]

Questions remain over the 3rd Tier

Despite the fact that Iron Dome itself has been speed developed and is being deployed in the next few months some caution is warranted. The system is not without numerous detractors, and for obvious reasons. The interceptors themselves are not cheap. A stark contrast to the sheer volume of relatively cheap unguided Qassam, Katusha & GRAD rockets it is designed to intercept, estimated to number in the tens of thousands in Lebanon alone.

That being said, Iron Dome may be headed for deployment and will surely be able to protect sensitive sites.. But this particular level of our unique in the world 3 tiered shield will likely be the most porous.

I captured this image of the Iron Dome interceptor last summer, it was the 1st public display of the system in Israel (Photo Haaretz)

I captured this image of the Iron Dome interceptor last summer, it was the 1st public display of the system in Israel (Photo Haaretz)

In the Lebanon War II conflict, there were many days when we saw in excess of 100+ unguided Katusha type rockets launched by Hezbollah at Israeli civilians. During the recent conflict in Gaza we also saw much the same with hundreds of Qassams and the occasional GRAD (20+ KM range) fired toward Israel. Iron Dome is headed in fact first to Gaza for multi-battery deployments. The question I am left with is, since Iron Dome will need to be selective in what it can engage due to cost & volume, I am wondering if the system’s radar can isolate both direction and likely impact on threat launch, in order to selectively target the more high valued projectiles inbound to the densest or most sensitive areas in Israel.

Keep in mind, flight times from launch to impact for the shortest range threats measure in the seconds and come in at under a minute. This leaves me a bit skeptical, I believe Iron Dome will need to be in the future as we move forward, buttressed by other short range interception systems like those used by the Americans to guard their ships. Close-in Gatling / Vulcan type cannons or something similar.

1st Tier will get a workout too

Also in the news this week coming out of the DOD, additional Arrow-2 tests off the California Pacific Coast. The Arrow is of course the joint Israeli American designed anti-ballistic missile system. The 1st of its kind and the 1st to be deployed to shield an entire country from large ballistic & scud type threats. Second generation Arrow-2 batteries have been deployed in Israel for a number of years now.

Last month I wrote that the Iranian Sejil-2, their newest Ballistic Missile (now reportedly already headed for mass production) will pose new challenges to Israel’s 1st tier Arrow shield due to its advancements & speed. Currently, it is a race between Iranian production capacity and Israeli ingenuity. Software and system updates will be required in our current generation Arrows to counter the threat properly. I have little doubt that this more expansive test all the way off the coast of California is part & parcel of that effort.

This is not the 1st Arrow test launching north of LA incidentally, but Debka does a good job filling in some detail regarding this upcoming test’s characteristics..

In a few days, the Israeli anti-missile Arrow system will face the first real test, weather permitting, of its ability to knock out an Iranian Shehab-3 or Sejil II ballistic missile at the outset of its flight toward Israel, DEBKAfile’s military sources report. The test will take place off central California’s Pacific coast.

Lieut. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, said Tuesday, July 14: “The test will allow Israel to measure its advanced Arrow 3 system against a target with a range of more than 620 miles (1,000 km), too long for previous Arrow test sites in the eastern Mediterranean.”

The test will try and engage a target not only upwards of 1,000 km distant but close to its launch. Until now, our military sources report, Arrow tests have been restricted by the small area of the Mediterranean Sea [...]

According to our military sources, this third Arrow exercise from a US site will also examine US-Israeli cooperation in missile interception in the event of an Iranian response to a possible Israeli strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities or an Iranian pre-emptive missile attack on Israel.

General O’Reilly announced that this would be the first full test of the ability of the American and Israeli intercept systems to work together and “provides us the opportunity to have the Patriot system, the THAAD system and the Aegis system all interacting with the Arrow system so that we’re demonstrating full interoperability as we execute this test.”

Joint Operations

Indeed, the interoperability of these systems was a gift from former President Bush in his last year of office, one of several it should be mentioned (here’s looking at you Mr. Obama). It was spearheaded by a Congressional effort led by Congressman Mark Kirk of Illinois (R). The effort culminated with the delivery last year & installation of an American mini base, at the IAF SuperBase – Nevatim. The American base presence, the 1st of its kind in Israel designed to house & operate the fulcrum of this interoperability effort, the American X-Band long range radar.

The X-Band radar, tied into America’s global satellite and nuclear / missile launch detection systems are what pull together the relevant anti-ballistic missile platforms; the older Patriot, brand new THAAD, sea based AEGIS, in conjunction with Israel’s IAF Arrow-2. It is the most comprehensive ABM system on the planet once it can be ironed out fully, making this 1st test of the joint Israeli US systems replicated off the California coast a major step.

It should be mentioned that the Arrow-2 and its under development Arrow-3 big brother are also under consideration for US use, in conjunction with the other American defense systems in defense of the North American continent. Equally, the major components of the Arrow are built by Boeing under contract with finishing in Israel. I mention that because it’s really only at the current iteration of the White House lately where some are so eager to create what they are calling ‘Daylight’ between America & Israel in general, as opposed to celebrating the extraordinary mutual alliance designed to benefit us all in ways we don’t often consider or imagine.

It also belies a common myth regarding Iran, Israel & America

The notion that Israel will ever truly be on its own if it decides to strike at Iran. Even if the USA is adamant against such a strike, even if it threatened punitive action. In my opinion these joint systems irrespective of US feelings would jump into action to intercept the likely incoming Iranian ballistics headed toward Israel, this is nearly a certainty. Tens of billions if not hundreds of them have been spent on these efforts and Missile Defense. This cooperation is also now a bedrock of the US Israel alliance going as far back as Bush I, when Israel in return for the genesis of these agreements did not retaliate against Saddam Hussein in the 1st Gulf War, when he launched some 50 Scud Missiles at Israeli populations & US Patriots were deployed.

There are other exercises involving joint US Israel military platforms and ABM systems on tap as well beyond those we have already seen & this most recent upcoming California test. At the same time, we see Israel clearly racing in order to upgrade, test, and deploy multiple tiers of our fairly unique 3 tier system. Tier-2, known as David’s Sling is designed to intercept medium range missile threats and is also under concurrent development with Iron Dome above. Equally, Israel is publicly & loudly moving naval assets back & forth through the Egyptian Suez Canal, saber rattling both the IDF hardware (Ships & Subs) and joint Israeli-Egyptian cooperation Iran is facing if it does not cease & desist shortly.

Taken in its entirety some things are clear, Israel is following its timelines for massive preparation. At the same time trying to restore some of the leverage lost by the US administration in its engagement strategies – By filling in the American component seemingly missing under the Obama administration, the threat of military action.

While I was capping the images of Iron Dome above, its bigger sister known as David's Sling was also on display for the 1st time. The interceptor is larger and mean looking if I say so myself as far as missiles go.. You can see clearly, it is a 2 stage system meant for larger threats of the Iranian ZelZal type.

While I was capping the images of Iron Dome above, its bigger sister known as David's Sling was also on display. The interceptor is larger and mean looking if I say so myself as far as missiles go.. You can see clearly, it is a 2 stage system meant for larger threats of the Iranian ZelZal type.

The countdown is on

Clearly, if forced we will strike. Every asset and all of Israel’s national efforts are from disparate angles convening toward preventing a nuclear Iran. Currently we are flexing in deterrent and often. But underneath every flex, lies a palpable & painful for the Iranian regime truth. The flexes are always part and parcel or an aspect of development, training, testing, deployment, etc for the real deal.

Testing weapons, resolve, alliances.. Historically these amounts of Israeli preparations have seen devastating results for its enemies, just ask the Syrians or Egyptians. The Iranian regime would be wise I think to take any deal it can, and quickly lest 2010 be one of record for the Islamic Revolution, but for all the wrong reasons.

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