The United States and Israel on Sunday successfully tested the Arrow-3 Interceptor missile in Alaska. The test of the Arrow-3 – a cutting-edge component of Israel’s multi-layer defense system – demonstrates the expanding missile defense capabilities of both countries, as well as their deepening security partnership in response to growing threats.
The test by the Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO) and U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) demonstrated the ability of the Arrow-3 to intercept and destroy a long-range ballistic missile outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Dr. Danny Gold from Israel’s Defense Ministry hailed the test as a “technological, operational and logistical breakthrough,” noting that it consisted of “three interceptions in a row, in space, at very high altitudes and at a very great distance, of long-range ballistic missiles.”
U.S. Vice Admiral Jon Hill, the MDA director, called the test a “major milestone” for the Arrow system and its ability to counter emerging threats. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu identified Iran as one of them, saying, “Israel has the ability to act against ballistic missiles that could be launched against us from Iran or anywhere else.” Just last week, Iran tested a Shahab-3 missile capable of striking Israel or its Arab neighbors.
Israel’s missile defense system consists of four operational layers: the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, the Arrow-2, and the Arrow-3. The Iron Dome defends against short-range rockets and artillery. David’s Sling, according to the Congressional Research Service, is a “short/medium-range system designed to counter long-range rockets and slower-flying cruise missiles fired at ranges from 40 km to 300 km, such as those possessed by Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.” Arrow-2 can defeat short- and medium-range ballistic missiles in the upper-atmosphere.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman noted that the U.S. provided funding and technical expertise for the test and made Alaskan airspace available. The test occurred at the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska (PSCA) on Kodiak Island, roughly three hundred miles south of Anchorage. The complex is one of the few places in the U.S. where a test of this range could be conducted.
Notably, an Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance and Control Model 2 (AN/TPY-2) radar participated in the test. The high-resolution radar, not currently part of Israel’s missile defense architecture, can track all classes of ballistic missiles at long distances. Its inclusion in the test underscores the growing interoperability of U.S. and partner missile defense systems. Sometimes referred to as an “any shooter, any sensor” model, linking U.S. and partner radars and missile defense interceptors promises to expand shared abilities to detect and destroy enemy missiles.
The successful missile defense test this weekend follows a high-level meeting Thursday in Tel Aviv between the commander of the United States European Command (EUCOM) and the chief of the general staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). According to a EUCOM press release, the two generals singled out “ballistic missile defense (BMD), command and control, and logistics support” as areas for “continued growth in defensive cooperation.”
Other recent missile cooperation between the U.S. and Israel includes the March 2018 biennial Juniper Cobra joint missile defense exercise and the March 2019 deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to Israel. The THAAD is a rapidly deployable land-based system designed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles during their final phase of flight.
The Pentagon’s 2019 Missile Defense Review noted the expanding missile capabilities of America’s adversaries and committed to sustaining a “strong missile defense partnership with Israel.” Sunday’s successful test demonstrates the continued value of this partnership and why Washington should strengthen it.
Bradley Bowman is senior director for the Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Mikhael Smits is a research analyst. Follow them on Twitter @Brad_L_Bowman and @mikhaelsmits. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.