TEL AVIV - The Iranian missile threat has spurred U.S. and Israeli government and industrial partners to press ahead - through good faith understandings pending formalized accords - with an aggressive development and testing program to deploy the new Arrow-3 missile by 2014, if not sooner.
No formal government-to-government program agreement has been signed, and the Israeli Ministry of Defense (MoD) still has to negotiate detailed terms and conditions of a purchase order issued just last month to missile developer and prime contractor Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
But despite the absence of detailed and binding agreements, government and industrial partners have been working together for nearly two years at multiple levels, successfully gliding through four of more than a dozen so-called Knowledge Points imposed by the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to assess progress on the potentially breakthrough, yet unproven, technology on which the Arrow-3 is based.
MDA insisted on the Knowledge Point formula to ensure that the unproven Arrow-3 lives up to expectations. If not, the two governments agreed to reconsider U.S.-favored upper-tier options, particularly land-based versions of the Aegis-based SM-3 family being built for the U.S. Navy, U.S. and Israeli sources said.
Program sources said two groups of MDA experts conducted independent, thorough risk assessments that validated critical subsystem technologies of the new Arrow-3.
Developed by IAI, the exoatmospheric, two-stage Arrow-3 uses pivoting optical sensors and its own upper-stage kick motor instead of separate control rockets to steer itself precisely into incoming targets. The expected result, program officials say, is a so-called high-divert missile weighing nearly half and reaching more than twice the heights of existing Arrow-2 interceptors.
Production of Arrow-2 is winding down and final deliveries to the Israel Air Force are planned by year's end. A first fly-out of the new Arrow-3 is planned for 2011.
"Arrow-3 offers a very good interception envelope, with very high performance rocket motors, multimode seeker and divert capability, which address the full range of advanced threats from distances. We believe it is the best solution to meeting our critical national security requirements," said Arieh Herzog, director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO).
Once Arrow-3 is integrated with Arrow-2 into a single national missile defense system, "no other option in the world" will provide as solid an answer to the looming missile threat against Israel, he said. Under the operational concept proposed by IMDO, and ultimately managed and operated out of the new Active Defense Directorate within the Air Force headquarters staff, Arrow-3, with its superior sensors and range, will allow a shoot-look-shoot capability unavailable under the Arrow-2 shoot-shoot plan.
"Even in cases of uncertainty, the new system will pick up the target and go for it. Its huge envelope gives us much more flexibility in planning intercept options," Herzog said.
As with the Arrow-2, IAI's MLM Division is teamed with Chicago-based Boeing on the new U.S.-Israel co-funded program. The two firms renewed their original 2003 Arrow-2 strategic teaming agreement in October 2008 to allow for early work on Arrow-3, IAI and Boeing executives said. During the past 18 months, Boeing secured from the U.S. State Department the requisite technical assistance agreements and licenses needed for predevelopment and concept validation.
But it wasn't until the U.S. congressional approval of $122 million in 2010 for the Arrow program that IMDO was able to issue an actual purchase order for full-scale development. Government and industry sources here noted that the IMDO's mid-February purchase order to IAI falls short of a final contract, and a detailed statement of work and contract terms and conditions remain pending.
Nevertheless, the multiyear agreement in principle, supported by U.S. funding and significant matching funds from the Israeli defense budget, allows IAI and Boeing to accelerate full-scale development, solidify their team of more than 10 U.S.-based subcontractors, and expand purchases of long-lead items needed for production.
"Cooperatively, we began the program in advance of the U.S.-Israel government agreement and in advance of the IMDO-IAI purchase order. By doing so, we were able to meet all four of the MDA Knowledge Points in 2009 and keep the program on schedule," Bill Dickerhoff, Boeing Arrow program manager, told Defense News on March 17.
Dickerhoff said Boeing's work share goals for the program are 15 percent to 20 percent during development and up to 50 percent of production. "Of course, as the program progresses and needs change, the numbers will fluctuate," he added.
"We started way before we had the full, multiyear funding commitment to find the best U.S. companies that would be part of our manufacturing team and to integrate them as early as possible in the program," said Yoav Turgeman, Arrow program director at IAI's MLM Division.
Turgeman, a reserve Israel Navy captain who managed electrical and weapon systems for the Navy's Materiel Command, noted that Boeing's work-share goals for Arrow-3 should exceed the approximately 40 percent claimed by the U.S. company during Arrow-2.
According to Turgeman, Boeing's Huntsville, Ala., program office is managing all U.S. subcontractors and ensuring they comply to IAI, IMDO and MDA specifications.
"Cooperation with Boeing has been and will undoubtedly remain an excellent example of how international partners working amid budgetary uncertainty and very challenging technical and schedule conditions can make it all work to mutual benefit," he said.
As for the pending government-to-government agreement on Arrow-3, an MDA official said formal documents are "very close" to conclusion.
New Block 5 Upgrade
In parallel to the escalating Arrow-3 effort, IMDO recently launched initial definition of a new Block 5 upgrade to the complete Arrow Weapon System (AWS) that will merge the lower-tier Arrow-2 and exoatmospheric Arrow-3 into a single national missile defense system.
The planned Block 5 AWS will include new ground- and airborne sensors, a command-and-control system, and a new high-performance target missile to simulate the Iranian Shahab and other potentially nuclear-capable delivery vehicles developed by Tehran, Herzog said.
In recent weeks, state-owned IAI and Rafael, along with their respective U.S. partners Boeing and Raytheon, submitted competing proposals for the new Arrow-3 target missile.
Defense and industry sources say Rafael's proposal is based on a third-generation, longer-range version of its air-launched Blue Sparrow and Black Sparrow targets, with significant technology contributed by Raytheon. As for IAI-Boeing rivals, the team proposed two options, both sea-based, to simulate maneuvering and other advanced flight characteristics of future Iranian missiles.
Additionally, the IMDO is working with IAI's Elta Systems to develop an S-Band instrumentation radar to support the Block 5 AWS, government and industry sources say.
The planned Block 5 will optimize the existing Elta-produced Super Green Pine L-Band early warning and tracking radar to operate with the U.S. AN/TPY-2 X-Band radar based in Israel as well as with radars commanding SM-3 interceptors aboard U.S. Navy destroyers. Both U.S. radars will be used to support closed-loop operations if Israel and U.S. targets in the region come under attack.
"The upper tier is not a new system; we're just adding [the Arrow-3] interceptor, and new or improved radars, sensors, and command-and-control elements to the existing system," Herzog said. He declined to say how much time or funding would be needed to develop, test and deploy the full Block 5 AWS.
But just as the Iranian threat has driven spiral development and testing of Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 interceptors, work on the new Block 5 AWS is taking place prior to completion of Israel's latest Block 4 AWS. Program officials said a critical retest of the Block 4 AWS remains unscheduled, but should occur later this year. This past summer, a so-called Caravan test off the California coast was aborted because of a glitch that occurred when transferring software from the Super Green Pine - a radar previously validated in a successful April 2009 AWS test - to the earlier-model Green Pine used in the U.S.-based demonstration.
"Tracking of the target worked well, but tracking trajectory information that the radar transferred to the battle management center erroneously showed we would be out of the prescribed safety range, so the mission was aborted," a program source said.
Herzog said the problem was easily solved and had no effect on Block 4 operational capabilities.
"But unfortunately, we lost the [C-17 air-launched LRALT] target, and now MDA is reviewing the reliability of their targets before allowing anybody to test."
Once that test is successfully completed, and "a few other remaining milestones" are achieved, it will be up to the Israel Air Force to declare the new Block 4 AWS operational, Herzog said. å