Air Defense: Integrated Multi-Threat Defense System


January 15, 2021: At the end of 2020 Israel conducted two weeks of anti-aircraft system tests in the eastern Mediterranean against targets simulating multiple missile and rocket threats. To handle this kind of multiple threat attack Israel ran successful tests demonstrating three different air-defense systems communicating with each other using a centralized target detection and fire control network to take down multiples of different types of targets. This new fire-control network enabled each air-defense system to successfully attack targets it was best capable of destroying. This test also showed that Iron Dome was capable of destroying an incoming cruise missile. Other incoming weapons included unguided rockets, a simulated ballistic missile and UAVs. The test was mainly about proving that a new integrated sensors and fire control system worked. The integrated system provided a single 3-D picture of the battlefield by combining data from the American Missile Defense Satellite early warning system plus the local radar systems used by Iron Dome, C-Dome (Iron Dome mounted on Israeli corvettes and offshore natural gas extraction platforms), David’s Sling (formerly Magic Wand), and Arrow, the Israel based ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) system. Such an integrated system was needed to protect Israel from a massive Iranian attack using rockets, explosives-laden UAVs and cruise missiles launched from Lebanon and Gaza as well as IRBMs (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles) launched from Iran and shorter-range ballistic missiles launched from Syria or (illegally) Iraq.

The IRBM interception capabilities of Arrow had already been tested in 2017 and David’s Sling had been used against incoming missiles from Syria in 2018. Iron Dome has intercepted over 2,400 rockets, mortar shells and UAVs since 2011 and demonstrated its ability to deal with cruise missiles during the December tests. Detecting and taking down cruise missiles is a new capability for Iron Dome and C-Dome. This new capability was seen as essential for Iron Dome because these can come from any direction and used in large numbers in a single attack. Iron Dome is designed to deal with such mass attacks by rockets and using the new integrated command and control system, it was found that the target data could quickly and successfully be used from other radar systems.

In early 2017 Israel successfully completed a final round of tests for its David’s Sling anti-aircraft/missile system and began deploying it in late 2017. At the same time the new Arrow 3 completed its final tests and was cleared for mass production as the version of Arrow that can intercept the longer-range Iranian IRBMs.

Iron Dome has a unique feature in which the radar system computes where the incoming rocket will land. If the rocket will not hit an inhabited area, it will be ignored. Otherwise, one or two interceptor missiles will be fired. David’s Sling adopted some of that technology for its anti-missile mode. The David’s Sling Stunner missile can be used against larger rockets that will be aimed (by Syria, Hamas or Hezbollah) at large urban areas, and these will almost always get a Stunner fired at them.

David’s Sling is expected to eventually replace the 17 Hawk anti-aircraft batteries as well and, eventually, the six Patriot batteries. David’s Sling is very similar to Patriot and one option is to offer David’s Sling components as upgrades for existing Patriot equipment. Stunner is already available as a Patriot upgrade because Stunner has a max range of 300 kilometers, which is longer than Patriot. Many of the David’s Sling technologies were developed jointly by American and Israeli firms with Patriot upgrades in mind. The Stunner missile's long range allows two David’s Sling batteries to cover all of Israel. A David’s Sling battalion would have three batteries each with six truck mounted launchers (each with four missiles), a radar vehicle and control vehicle.

Arrow 3 was earlier tested in the Eastern Mediterranean against Israeli ballistic missile warheads launched from high-flying jets. In 2019 Arrow was also tested from the American PSCA (Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska) in Kodiak, Alaska against three different ballistic missile targets. Israeli “Sparrow” ballistic missile targets are often used for testing the ABM capabilities of David’s Sling, Patriot and Arrow. These targets are missiles carried to a high altitude by an F-16, F-15 or a large transport aircraft. When launched, the missiles fly higher and then plunge earthward at a speed and trajectory nearly identical to that of a ballistic missile warhead. This provides an accurate target for testing anti-missile systems. All these Sparrow systems are basically air-to-surface missiles equipped to carry electronics reporting all flight characteristics, as well as some explosives so that the missile can be quickly destroyed in the air if it has problems and heads for a populated area. Sparrow is cheaper than any alternatives.

All three models of Sparrow are about eight meters (twenty-six feet) long and look like large missiles with a reentry type warhead that has the shape of an object designed to survive the heat from a high-speed plunge back to earth. That is done by using the rocket to accelerate the warhead as it heads down. To a radar that speed makes it look like a ballistic missile warhead reentering the atmosphere. These warheads come in at different speeds depending on the range of the missile. Longer range missiles have a higher re-entry speed and that higher speed makes the warhead harder to track and hit with an anti-missile missile.

The first of the three different models of the Sparrow system appeared in the 1990s to help test the new Arrow anti-missile system. That 1.4-ton Black Sparrow simulated earlier models of the Russian SCUD short range (about three-hundred kilometers) ballistic missile. The 1.8-ton Blue Sparrow simulates later, longer range (up to a thousand kilometers) models of the SCUD type missiles. The 3.2-ton Silver Sparrow simulates an IRBM with a range of up to two-thousand kilometers, like the Iranian Shahab 3.

Sometimes these target systems can cause problems all by themselves. In September 2013 two Sparrows were used over the Mediterranean for an Arrow test. A Russian electronic monitoring and radar tracking ship (“spy ship”) was off the Syrian coast to keep an eye on NATO activity in the area and detected the incoming Sparrows. The Russians reported the use of ballistic missiles and the Israelis quickly revealed that these were Sparrows, not ballistic missiles.




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