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Israel moves closer to missile defense shield

Nov. 22, 2013 at 12:44 PM   |   Comments

TEL AVIV, Israel, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- Israel, alarmed that a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement will leave its security exposed, has moved closer to consolidating its multilayer missile defense shield, with the successful interception of a short-range ballistic missile by its David's Sling system, under development by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and the U.S. Raytheon Co.

David's Sling, also known as Magic Wand, is designed to shoot down medium-range missiles -- with Iran's Zelzal, Fajr and Fateh-110 weapons plus the M600, a Syrian-manufactured copy of Fateh-100 that carries a half-ton warhead -- as the most likely targets.

All these weapons are among the estimated 40,000 missiles and rockets -- some reports go as high as 70,000 -- that Israeli officials say longtime adversary Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel's northern neighbor, possesses.

The interception test was held in southern Israel Wednesday amid renewed threats of pre-emptive strikes by Israel against Iran if it does not bow to international pressure to close down its alleged program to acquire nuclear weapons.

The Defense Ministry said the test was "a major milestone in Israel's operational ability to defend itself, including against threats that are expected in the region" through the four-level defense shield it's building to intercept virtually every type of missile currently deployed in the greater Middle East.

David's Sling, intended as a flexible, multipurpose system to counter missiles with ranges of 63-125 miles, is scheduled to be deployed in 2014 after being fast-tracked through production.

It underwent its first test in February when officials say its Stunner interception missile scored a direct hit on a target rocket.

The Israelis have released little data about Stunner, other than that it has two stages and carries multiple onboard sensors.

However, Western weapons experts say it was developed from Israel's Python heat-seeking air-to-air missile, and that -- given its origins and configuration -- Stunner probably weighs less than a ton. It has an assumed range of 48-156 miles.

Two components of the defense shield are already operational.

Iron Dome, the lowest tier of the shield -- also built by Rafael, with hefty U.S. funding -- has been shooting down short-range Palestinian rockets since early 2012 with a declared success rate of 85 percent of all missiles engaged. Five batteries are currently in service, with at least eight more on order.

There are at least two batteries of Arrow-2, built by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, which are designed to destroy ballistic missiles -- such as Iran's Shehab-3 or the more advanced Sejjil-2 now under development -- at high altitudes in the terminal phase of their trajectories.

The cutting-edge Arrow-3, under development by IAI and the Boeing Co., is intended to intercept ballistic missiles at an even higher altitude, outside Earth's atmosphere. Arrow-2 is then expected to pick off any missiles that evade that system.

The theory is that David's Sling will also be able to fill the gap between Iron Dome and Arrow-2/3. Arrow-3 is expected to become operational by 2016, completing the defense shield.

David's Sling is linked to a Multi-Mission Radar manufactured by Elta, an IAI subsidiary, and the Golden Almond battle-management and control system developed by Israel's Elisra, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems.

It will eventually replace Israel's medium-range MIM-23 HAWK surface-to-air missiles built by Raytheon, first acquired in the 1960s and upgraded, and eventually the country's MIM-104 Patriot systems, also from Raytheon, as well.

Wednesday's test intercept underlined David's Sling's flexibility and how it can backstop other systems against targets at high and low altitudes, a capability that's likely to prove most effective in the event of a large-scale ballistic missile attack.

The trial "was a very complex procedure," said Yair Ramati of the Defense Ministry's Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure.

"What's special about it is that it knows how to intercept from a low altitude to a fairly high altitude in the atmosphere, covering a wide range of territory which I can't unfortunately cite," he said.

The Israeli military in 2012 grouped its air defense assets into a new organization, the Air Defense Command, because of the expanding nature of the missile threat from Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, and the possibility of new threats emerging from political upheaval sweeping the Arab world.

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