Israel Tests Arrow Against Missile Salvo Threat
Sun Jan 5, 4:52 PM ET
By Mark Heinrich
PALMAHIM, Israel (Reuters) - Israel launched four Arrow missile interceptors high over the sea on Sunday in what it called a successful first performance test against a simulated incoming salvo of missiles akin to Iraqi Scuds.
Shocked by the failure of U.S. Patriot missiles to down 39 Iraqi Scuds fired at it during the 1991 Gulf War (news - web sites), Israel has conceived the first custom-designed anti-ballistic missile in time for a looming U.S. campaign to disarm Iraq.
Reporters on a Mediterranean beach saw an Arrow soar from the nearby Palmahim air base into the sky, a soundless blazing white streak against the gathering dusk, and arc over the sea before vanishing beyond its contrails.
Three other Arrows from the $2.2 billion anti-ballistic system blasted into the sky within seconds. Defense Ministry officials said the first Arrow was fully armed with a warhead and the others were dummy versions.
"This was the first of a series of tests intended to evaluate the system's performance against the next generation of incoming threats. It was successful," a ministry statement said.
Four computer-simulated targets resembling Scud missiles were plotted by the Arrow's Green Pine radar network and all were intercepted "in continuous launching conditions," it said.
"The test objectives, defined together with our U.S. partner, were to analyze the interceptor's performance under special flight conditions. An incoming target was not needed."
Iraq fired 39 Scuds with conventional warheads at Israel in the 1991 Gulf War, causing one death and extensive damage in residential neighborhoods mainly on the Mediterranean coast.
Patriot missiles supplied to Israel were largely ineffective in intercepting them but have since been upgraded.
Israel fears Iraq could stud Scuds with biological or chemical agents this time around. But strategic experts believe Iraq, its military clout eroded by defeat in 1991 and international trade sanctions since, is thought to have no more than a few dozen ready missiles left over from its old arsenal.
JOINT U.S.-ISRAELI MISSILE EXERCISES PLANNED
Around 1,000 U.S. troops are expected to hold exercises in Israel soon involving upgraded Patriot missiles in an example of the close strategic cooperation between the allies.
Israeli media have said Israel would go on alert from January 15 in anticipation that hostilities would start in the Gulf sometime between January 27, the day U.N. inspectors are to submit their report on Iraq's current arsenal, and February 26.
Sunday's test was the 10th for the Arrow, a state-of-the-art system "like a bullet able to hit a bullet," in the words of its chief engineer who briefed reporters given an unprecedented tour of the Palmahim missile installation two months ago.
The slender, 23-foot-long Arrow is tailored to detect, track and destroy a missile in under three minutes at altitudes of more than 30 miles, its designers say.
They say the Arrow marks a quantum advance from the Patriot, an anti-aircraft system that was imperfectly adapted to down missiles traveling at far higher speeds than planes and unable to reach space, the flight path of ballistic weapons like Scuds.
Before Sunday the Arrow had not been tested against a simulated "salvo" of missiles fired at once -- the stiffest challenge for any missile defense system and a possible scenario if Iraq targets Israel again.
Independent Israeli air defense experts have estimated the Arrow's success rate at 95 percent.
Military sources said Israel had more than 200 Arrows -- costing $3 million apiece -- based at Palmahim and at a recently established second base in central Israel.
Half the Arrow's research, development and production costs from the project's inception in 1988 have been borne by the United States, Israel's guardian ally. State-owned Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd developed the Arrow.