Arrow, a joint project of Israel and the United States, is one of the most advanced missile defense programs currently in existence. It consists of high-altitude interceptors, deployed in Israel, able to seek and destroy incoming ballistic missiles in their terminal phase, i.e. during the final minutes of descent.
As a small nation surrounded by enemies armed with short and medium-range missiles, Israel’s need for missile defense is considerable. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Saddam Hussein launched Scud missiles at Israel in what many believe was an attempt to unite the Arab nations against a common enemy. Although the recent U.S. invasion eliminated the Iraqi menace, Israel is still threatened by Syria’s Scuds and Iran’s longer-range Shabab-3 missiles. Arrow now gives Israel the ability to defend itself against these weapons of mass destruction.
The Arrow project began in the late 1980s as an Israeli demonstration model submitted to President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. Since 1988, the U.S. has given Israel more than $1 billion in grants for research and development. In fiscal year 2004, Congress appropriated $154.8 million for the Arrow project, up from $145.7 million the previous year. In April 2004, Israel Aircraft Industries announced a partnership with Boeing to develop components for the system. It is estimated that Boeing’s total long-term contract will exceed $225 million.
Arrow consists of three main components: a phased array radar, a fire control center, and a high-altitude interceptor missile. The phased array radar, known as “Green Pine,” is capable of detecting incoming warheads at a distance of 500 kilometers. This provides adequate radar coverage, since missiles launched at Israel from other Middle Eastern nations will not appear over the horizon before this distance.
The system is designed to work quickly and efficiently. As soon as Green Pine detects an incoming missile, the fire control center, called “Citron Tree,” launches its interceptor missile. The 23-foot long interceptor shoots toward the threat at nine times the speed of sound, and reaches a height of 30 miles in less than three minutes. Once it gets within two seconds of its target, Arrow’s optical detectors aims for the incoming missile’s warhead.
The interceptor’s own explosive warhead detonates within 40 to 50 yards of the missile, allowing Arrow to miss its target and still neutralize the threat. In this manner, Arrow differs from U.S. interceptors like the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which rely on hit-to-kill technology in which the kinetic force of a precise impact causes the destruction of the threat.
Arrow’s speed and range (approximately 100 kilometers) allow it to intercept incoming missiles at a high enough altitude so that any nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons do not scatter over Israel’s cities and military targets. This high-speed, high-altitude intercept also gives Citron Tree enough time to launch a second interceptor in the event that the first one fails to destroy its target. The fire control center is capable of operating up to 14 interceptors at the same time.
Israel has tested the interceptor 12 times and the entire weapons system seven times. On December 16, 2003, an Arrow interceptor from the Palmachim Air Force Base (south of Tel Aviv) destroyed a Black Sparrow test missile dropped from a F-15 fighter. The flight path of the Black Sparrow was intended to simulate an incoming Scud missile heading toward the Israeli shore.
In a more realistic test on July 29, 2004, an Arrow interceptor launched from the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center at Point Magu (near Los Angeles) successfully destroyed an actual Scud missile over the Pacific Ocean. The Scud was launched from a sea-based platform at its maximum range and speed. After two minutes, Arrow’s Green Pine radar picked up the incoming threat and relayed the information to the Citron Tree battle management center. After another three minutes, the Arrow interceptor was launched. It climbed toward the incoming missile for 90 seconds and detonated against its target at an altitude of 40 kilometers, completely destroying it.
Israel presently has two Arrow batteries deployed on its soil, one at Palmachim to protect Tel Aviv and the other at Ein Shemer near Hadera. The Israeli Defense Force plans to procure 200 interceptors; 100 for each battery. A third battery is in development in the south. Israel is confident that these batteries will defend its citizens against threats from surrounding hostile nations. Many believe that if Israel is attacked by the same number of missiles that Saddam Hussein launched in 1991, Arrow will ensure that Israeli cities see only smoke and scattered debris.
For the U.S., Arrow has provided important technical and operational data. It remains a key element in the Missile Defense Agency’s plan for a layered missile defense architecture, and an example of a successful, affordable program. At the moment, however, the U.S. does not have plans to procure and deploy Arrow.
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