TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s Defense Ministry and industry developers have begun early work on what could evolve into the Arrow-4, a new missile-intercepting system to defend against much more sophisticated, future threats from Iran.
In interviews here, defense and industry sources assess the specter of massive salvo strikes, sub-munition warheads and multiple reentry vehicles, or MRV, as the next major technological challenges that Israel’s integrated, multitiered national defense network may have to contend with a decade down the road.
To this end, Israel’s MAFAT Defense Research and Development Authority is working with state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries and other firms to evaluate technologies needed to improve the ability to track, target and ultimately destroy such threats.
“We’re very happy that the missile defense architecture of Israel is working, but, as you know, we can’t stand in place. We have to remain at least one step ahead of the threat,” said Moshe Patel, director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, part of the MoD’s MAFAT Defense Research and Development Authority. “We’re today evaluating technology in the industry and in MAFAT to determine the way forward.”
According to Patel, ongoing work is in the very early stages, and is focused not only on a new interceptor but on the infrastructure that may be needed to support it. He noted that Israel recently started to share its preliminary work and concept definition studies with American partners at the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency.
“Just like Iron Dome started with infrastructure [studies] and [research and development] within MAFAT, we are starting to interest the Americans and share with them what we believe could be the way forward,” Patel told Defense News.
Boaz Levy, IAI executive vice president and head of the group that developed the operational Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 interceptors, said it was probably too early to call the effort Arrow-4. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that ongoing design studies are aimed at a future interceptor that will extend capabilities beyond Arrow-2, which intercepts Scud-type ballistic missiles high within Earth’s atmosphere, and Arrow-3, which is designed to destroy targets in space.
“It’s not yet Arrow-4. We’re just now in the initial design phase as we work to define the next generation of threats,” Levy said.
“Development of these systems take many years. So the next step, from our perspective, is to get into the future threat and to develop capabilities to stay ahead of it,” he added.
Tal Inbar, head of the Space and UAV Research Center at Israel’s Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, closely monitors speeches, literature and images coming out of Iran. He noted that in an address last year, Iranian Defense Minister Hosseign Dehghan spoke about the need to “evade the enemy’s anti-missile defense systems” with ballistic missiles capable of destroying “massive” and “multiple” targets.
“First there was an official artist illustration of a Shihab missile releasing sub-munitions in space. Then we saw footage from tests of unknown missiles where mock runways and air base installations appeared to be damaged by sub-munitions. ... So it should be understood that Iran is moving in this direction, and the next logical step is MRVs,” Inbar said.
Meanwhile, the IMDO’s Patel said Israel is looking forward to a milestone: the so-called Caravan-3 test planned for next year on Kodiak Island, Alaska. Planned in lockstep with the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency and conducted as part of the ongoing U.S.-Israel Arrow System Improvement Program, the test will allow Israel to validate its capabilities against much longer-range, threat-representative targets.
“The Mediterranean Sea is limited for safety reasons and mostly due to debris. And because Arrow-3 has a huge envelope, it was a joint decision to go to Alaska rather than deal with safety and geographic restrictions,” Patel said.
The last time Israel tested the Arrow system abroad was in the 2009-2011 time frame, in a Caravan-2 test at the U.S. naval air station in Point Mugu, California. An earlier Caravan-1 test, also at Point Mugu, was completed in 2004.
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.