WASHINGTON and JERUSALEM — The German Air Force is looking to the Israeli Arrow-3 system to quickly field a defensive weapon against Russian Iskander and other missiles, according to a service spokesman.
The push follows the “informal” approval by political leaders in Germany to initiate more concrete acquisition plans, the spokesman told Defense News. Internally, plans to erect a defense system for Germany and, potentially, neighboring countries, goes by the working title of “German Iron Shield.”
The spokesman stressed the state of play in favor of Arrow-3 was based on agreement by “all political decision makers” in Berlin, though no contracts had been signed. In that spirit, the backing of the Ministry of Defense is assumed, according to the Luftwaffe, Germany’s air force.
An MoD spokeswoman said territorial missile defense is considered a permanent requirement by the department since the armed forces, the Bundeswehr, rolled out its latest strategic concept in 2018.
She described the Arrow system as “one option” of several. “There has been no decision about when and how this capability gap will be filled.”
The Luftwaffe’s assumptions about Arrow-3 as the choice for Germany’s future system would settle a race to quickly equip the country with a missile shield that German Chief of Staff Gen. Eberhard Zorn told newspaper Welt am Sonntag had come down to an Israeli or U.S. vendor.
Reuters reported last month the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, made by Lockheed Martin, also was in the running. Asked about this during a visit to Washington last week, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht punted on specifics, saying instead the requirements for a German missile shield were still being finalized.
The Jerusalem Post was first to report Tuesday that Luftwaffe Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz during a visit to Israel had signaled Germany’s backing of the Arrow-3 weapon.
Israel’s Arrow family of missile systems was first developed in the late 1980s, leading to the the Arrow-1 and Arrow-2 systems in the 1990s and early 2000s, and culminating in the Arrow-3, which became operational in 2017.
The system uses the Green Pine radar and Citron Tree battle management system. The chief contractor for the system is Israel Aerospace Industries, and Boeing has in the past acted as a subcontractor. Elbit Systems has built the battle-management system, while IAI’s Elta makes the radar.
Israel’s Ministry of Defense, IAI and other officials did not comment on the recent news regarding German interest in the system.
There has been interest in exporting of the system since at least 2019. In the wake of recent missile threats to the Gulf and other states in the Middle East, there are reports several countries have expressed interest in Israeli air defense systems and the radar used with the Arrow system.
The prospect of Germany buying an antimissile system for primarily national purposes is sure to prompt some head-scratching at NATO. The alliance has always treated the discipline of shooting down long-range missiles targeting Europe from Iran — and now, possibly, Russia — as a multinational team sport because of the continent’s geography.
As it stands, the American SM-3 missile, fired from ships and one land site in Romania, is the predominant NATO interceptor for striking missiles in the upper layer of Earth’s atmosphere, the kind of distance for which Germany is seeking a new system. But alliance officials have said for years the SM-3 infrastructure was aimed solely at threats from Iran.
In contemplating an alliance-wide missile shield for Europe, NATO officials have worked for years though the legal intricacies of the terrain — what to do, for example, in the event of intercept debris crashing down in densely populated areas far from any missile threat. Such questions could make it difficult for one alliance member in Europe to field a system entirely on its own, according to experts.
The Arrow family has undergone some changes in recent years. In 2017, Arrow-2 was first used in an interception of a missile threat when it stopped a surface-to-air missile fired from Syria. In February 2021, Israel announced it was beginning work on an Arrow-4 system.
For Israel, the Arrow system has been envisioned to defend against Iranian and other ballistic missile threats. It most recently tested Arrow-3 in January 2022.
Uzi Rubin, the founder and first director of Israel’s Missile Defense Organization, told Defense News the Arrow system would be “a good choice” for medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. “I believe, although I have no means to substantiate it, that Arrow-3 might be adaptable to deal with the Kinzhal,” he added, referring to a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in the Russian arsenal.
Sebastian Sprenger is Europe editor for Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multinational investments in defense and global security. He previously served as managing editor for Defense News.
Seth Frantzman is the Israel correspondent for Defense News. He has been covering conflict in the Middle East since 2010. He has experience covering the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and he is a co-founder and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.