TEL AVIV — Extensive simulations rather than boots on the ground will characterize this year's Juniper Cobra (JC16), a biennial US-Israel air defense drill that is kicking off here and will continue through the end of the month.
Hundreds of US military personnel from US European Command (EUCOM) are already here and hundreds more will join in the three-week event, which is the smallest in years and heavily oriented toward simulated command post and joint task force operations with the Israel Air Defense Force.
They will be supported by hundreds more US servicemen and women in the United States, across Europe and on Aegis cruisers stationed in the Mediterranean, sources from both countries said.
But despite Israel's initial requests, the US will not forward-deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, Patriot PAC-3 or any other intercepting systems for participation in the final two-day, live-fire part of the drill.
Instead, US intercepting batteries will demonstrate their ability to interoperate with Israeli anti-rocket and anti-missile systems through data links connecting them to simulated operations taking place at the JC16 command center at Israel's Hatzor Air Base near Ashdod.
"We understand the US is busy in all kinds of places in the world and is also dealing with budget issues. But with technology that now allows over-the-water connectivity, they suggested and we agreed to expand the benefits of simulation while scaling back boots on the ground," an Israeli officer said.
All layers of Israel's active defense network — the Arrow-2 anti-tactical ballistic missile system, Patriot PAC-2 air defense batteries, Iron Dome and the not-yet-operational David's Sling Weapon System — will take part in simulations against coordinated and sustained salvo attack from multiple fronts.
They will be joined in simulated defensive battles by at least one SM-3-equipped Aegis ship on high alert off Israel's Mediterranean coast; a THAAD battery providing simulated support from the US; and US Patriot PAC-3s stationed in Europe.
In addition, all supporting elements from US and Israeli intercepting systems, including the US AN/TPY-2 radar stationed here, the Israeli Super Green Pine radar, and the Multi-Mission Radar controlling Iron Dome and David's Sling, will be connected via US-supplied Link 16 and fiber-optic ground communications.
"It's much more modest this year in terms of numbers and actual hardware, but we're confident JC16 will provide meaningful opportunity to expand on the excellent cooperation we've built," an Israeli reserve officer said.
As for the final live-fire portion of the drill, Israeli air defenders will operate a single Iron Dome battery, with command-and-control support from David's Sling and Arrow.
US and Israeli public affairs officers declined to comment on the lack of US forward-deployed intercepting batteries in this year's drill or provide additional details until a formal press event is held later this month.
They referred to a joint Feb. 6 statement that described JC16 as "part of the routine training cycle designed to improve cooperation and coordination."
Such drills, according to the statement, "contribute to the IDF's qualitative military edge."
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.