Strategic Weapons: Arrow Fails Off California Coast


July 24, 2009: Israel tested its new Arrow II anti-missile system off the West coast of the United States, and the test failed. It was described as a communications problem with the interceptor vehicle. Actually, there were three failures in a week of tests. The practice warhead was provided by a target missile dropped from a C-17 transport.

The two ton Arrow I is being replaced with the 1.3 ton Arrow II, which can shoot down longer range (1,100 kilometers or more) ballistic missiles fired from Iran. Israel is currently developing and testing an upgraded Arrow II, and one failed test won't halt the program. The test has to be done off the U.S. west coast because that was the only facility available to Israel for testing such a system, that requires longer range target missiles for a realistic and meaningful result.

To further complicate matters, the U.S. wants to withdraw its support for development of the Arrow system. About half the $2 billion cost of developing Arrow has come from the United States. In addition, American firms have done some of the development work, or contributed technology. The U.S. wants to cut the several hundred million dollars it would be spending on future Arrow development, in order to save money, and allocate more resources to U.S. anti-missile systems (Aegis SM-3, THAAD and GBI). American support of Arrow was originally sort of an insurance policy, in case similar U.S. effort didn't work out. But now the U.S. is having second thoughts about cutting Arrow support, because they believe that Israel might be less likely to launch an air strike on Iranian nuclear development sites, if there were a dependable anti-missile system available to stop such Iranian missiles.

Israel has two batteries of Arrow I, and over a hundred missiles available. An Arrow battery has 4-8 launchers, and each launcher carries six missiles in containers. The Arrow was developed to knock down Scud type missiles fired from Syria, Saudi Arabia or Iraq. The U.S. has provided Israel with a mobile X-band radar that enables it to detect incoming ballistic missiles father away. Currently, the Israeli Green Pine radar can only detect a ballistic missile fired from Iran when the missile warhead is about two minutes from hitting a target in Israel. The X-band radar  allows the Iranian missile to be spotted when it was 5-6 minutes away, enabling the Israeli Arrow anti-missile missile to hit the Iranian warhead farther away and with greater certainty. Israel also wants to buy a land based version of the Aegis anti-missile missile.


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