JERUSALEM — Israel and the United States on Monday staged the first test flight of the latest generation of their Arrow missile defence system, the Arrow 3, the Israeli defense ministry said.
“This is the first flight test of the Arrow 3 interceptor and was conducted at an Israeli test range over the Mediterranean Sea,” it said in a statement. “Israel’s Missile Defense Organization and U.S. Missile Defense Agency officials conducted the flight test,” it added.
The Arrow is a jointly produced, cutting-edge system designed to counter long-range missile attacks, mainly from Israel’s arch-foe, Iran.
A senior Israeli defense ministry official, briefing journalists on condition of anonymity, said that unlike previous versions, the mark 3 Arrow was designed to intercept targets above the earth’s atmosphere. It would take its place alongside the existing, lower-trajectory Arrow 2, the U.S.-Israeli David’s Sling medium-range defense system and the home-grown Iron Dome setup, which has already seen service against short-range attack, he said.
“The Arrow 3 is the upper tier for exo-atmospheric interceptions to provide the state of Israel additional opportunities for interception of incoming missiles from Iran or elsewhere.”
“This is the first fly out, it is the first time that (it) flew through the air,” the official said. “This is the first time the interceptor with all of its equipment took off and flew.”
Israel, along with the United States and much of the West, believes Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon, allegations Tehran strongly denies. The Jewish state, the Middle East’s sole, albeit undeclared, nuclear power, believes Iran must be prevented from reaching military nuclear capabilities at any cost and refuses to rule out military intervention to achieve that goal.
The Israeli official said that Monday’s test was unrelated to growing regional tension.
“The test has nothing to do with the current political environment between Israel and elsewhere,” he said, adding that he could not say when the system would become operational.
Iron Dome has already been tested in battle. In eight days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in November, the Israeli military said that it brought down 421 of 1,354 rockets fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Of those that landed, 58 hit urban areas while the rest fell in open fields, causing no damage.