Arrow anti-missile test in “difficult conditions”

The official announcement that Israel’s anti-ballistic missile Arrow 2 system is to be tested Sunday, January 5, in “difficult and unusual flight conditions, in a complex targeting environment”, raises questions – especially when US defense officials have come especially to observe the first nearly simultaneous launching of four Arrow missiles, one of them armed.
One of those questions is this: How come this multi-billion ballistic missile system, tested-fired 9 times, is only being test-launched in “difficult and unusual conditions” on the eve of war with Iraq?
Another is: What are those difficult conditions?
The effect of abstruse, uninformative official statements of this kind is to leave people guessing and worrying instead of reassuring them that “Israel has never been better prepared for any contingency”, as the prime minister keeps on saying amid the frequent alarums and excursions over the Iraq missile threat.
The Arrow test will be part of the joint US-Israel air defense exercise due to begin in different parts of Israel in the next few days, in which, aside from the Arrow, 2 Israeli and 2 German Patriot anti-missile batteries will take part, as well as an American warship equipped with long-range radar for detecting missiles. The hundreds of US troops taking part in the exercise will remain in Israel. One thousand Marines are due to land this week.
It is worth remembering, as debkafile‘s military sources stress, that the two Arrow batteries deployed in central and southern Israel are capable of shooting down 5 to 6 incoming missiles. Their ability to intercept a massive salvo of 15 or 20 missiles from Iraq is questionable.
In theory, a single Arrow warhead tackles a single Scud at one time. However, the Arrow 2 system, consisting of the Green Pine static radar station, the Citron Tree fire-control and the rocket, is designed to intercept an attacking missile at about 50-90 km from cities. It has a proximity-fused warhead which gets it to within two seconds of an intercept and then blows it up. It does not need direct impact to kill an enemy missile; it can miss by 50-60 meters and still destroy the warhead.
The Arrow’s big asset lies in its radar. While Green Pine is capable of judging the path of an enemy missile and its target shortly after it takes off – from as far away as 500km – questions exist about its ability to simultaneously track a large number of incoming missiles and calculate the number of warheads needed to intercept them before they hit target. The difference between doubt and certainty is measured in seconds. While Israeli may be the first country with complete anti-missile capability, it has its limits.
To stop this gap in Israel’s anti-ballistic missile defenses, the IDF has deployed all the Patriot and Hawk batteries in its armory, while the Americans have rushed over improved Patriot batteries.
Sunday’s hurried test-launching is being staged to settle a difference of opinion between Israel and American air defense experts. The Israeli side is certain the batteries in place can be safely counted on to defend the country against enemy missile assault; the Americans are less certain and want to see Israel’s assertion stand up to field testing.
In the 1991 Gulf war, the old Patriots failed to stop 39 Scud missiles from landing in the Tel Aviv area. Since then, the Americans have re-engineered and improved the system, producing the PAC3.
On January 5, therefore, at the eleventh hour before the Iraqi conflict begins, Israel will belatedly carry out a definitive test to establish whether its anti-missile and anti-air defenses are proof this time against potential hazards from the sky. The tardy discovery of any defects or faults in the Arrow system will not exactly help public morale or enhance Israel’s deterrent strength against Iraq and other enemies, such as the Palestinians and the Hizballah.
Over the weekend defense minister Shaul Mofaz leveled with Israelis when he warned that air defense tests often go wrong. But, if they did, he said there was time enough to correct them before the Iraqi campaign gets started.

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