Before moving towards Israeli missile defense system let’s discuss what is a missile defense system and its importance and overall role for a country.
The basic goal of a missile defense system is to detect and shoot down incoming missile attacks. In this way they play an important role in strategic deterrence.
A missile- defense system can save civilian lives and safeguard the infrastructure of a country from destruction.
A missile defense system also gives crucial political advantages to a country. It enhances the ability of a country to concede significant security, economic and diplomatic interests.
Although many military-advanced countries such as the USA, China and Russia have their own missile defense systems. But it is considered that the most prestigious of them is the Israeli missile defense system.
In recent times, because of the Israel-Palestine conflict Israeli missile defense system has become a global sensation.
Although everyone is talking about it, most of the people don’t know how Israeli missile defense system works.
In this article we will discuss the different layers of Israeli missile defense system, how it works and its significance in Israel military strategy.
What is Israeli Missile Defense System?
The Israeli missile defense system is one of the most advanced missile defense systems in the world.
This Israeli missile defense system has been protecting the country against the attacks of Hamas from Gaza Strip since 2011.
The Israeli missile defense system was started in 1985, when the military officials of the USA and Israel signed a memorandum of understanding to develop an active missile defense system.
In 1986, because of the unique security needs of Israel, the USA decided to build an interception missile system.
During the Gulf War in 1991, the IMDO was established which was responsible for the production and development of Israeli missile defesce system.
Finally, in 1998 the first layer of Israeli missile defense system, the Arrow system was entrusted to Israeli Air Force.
Three Layers of Israeli Missile Defense System:
Currently, Israeli missile defense system consists of three operational layers. These layers are;
- Iron Dome: (bottom layer)
- David’s Sling: (middle layer)
- Arrow System: (upper layer)
The bottom layer of the Israeli missile defense system is made up of the notorious Iron Dome. The Iron dome detects and defeats the short-range surface to surface incoming missiles.
The Iron Dome is the most effective layer of the Israeli missile defense system, as the majority of the missiles fired by Israel’s enemies are short-range.
The project of Iron Dome was started in 2007 and it became active in 2011. From 2011 to 2020, the Iron Dome intercepted and shot down almost 90% of the missiles fired by militants in the Gaza Strip.
The Iron Dome is specifically designed to destroy low-range missiles, and it is one of the first defense systems to be designed for this task.
Some people argue that the USA Patriot System is more advanced than the Iron Dome, but the Patriot System doesn’t have the ability to detect and destroy short-range missiles.
Main Elements of the Iron Dome:
Just like most of the air defense systems, the Iron Dome of Israeli missile defense system has three main components;
The first part of the Iron Dome is a radar that detects the incoming missiles.
This is the second component of the Iron Dome, which processes the information received by the radar and then activates the interceptor to act.
Interceptor is the third and last part of Iron Dome. It is actually a missile, whose main function is to destroy the other missiles.
The success of the Israeli missile defense system mainly depends on how effectively the interceptor of Iron Dome blows up the incoming missiles in the mid-air.
Limitations of the Iron Dome:
The Iron Dome has very sophisticated technology but it is used for very unsophisticated and cheap weapons, as it only can intercept short-range cheap rockets and missiles.
The Iron Dome also didn’t alter the reality of time-to-time airstrikes of Israel on Hamas. The nature of Israel-Palestine also remained the same.
So, although the Iron Dome of the Israeli missile defense system is good to protect the population and buy some time for Israeli Army, but according to some experts the Iron Dome will become ineffective after some years.
The Iron Dome can’t detect or shoot down the advanced hypersonic ballistic missiles. Even sometimes, Iron Dome proves ineffective against the mid-range missiles fired by Hezbollah.
Hezbollah is a Shia militia in Lebanon and is backed by Iran government.
To intercept the advanced ballistic missiles, the Israeli missile defense system has other layers.
David’s Sling is the middle layer of the Israeli missile defense system, which is designed to intercept mid-range rockets and missiles. It is also known as Magic Wand.
The name David’s Sling is taken from the Bible. According to the Bible, the Prophet David used only a sling to slay the commander of the enemy’s army named Goliath.
Until 2014, the Israeli missile defense system was unprepared to deal with the threat of medium-range missiles and rockets that could be fired from Iran or Lebanon.
But then in 2014, they started working on the David’s Sling with the help of the United States and in 2017 this David’s Sling was added as the middle layer to the Israeli missile defense system.
The ballistic missiles and medium range rockets, which are fired within the range of 40 to 300 km are tackled down with the help of the David’s Sling.
Elements of the David’s Sling:
Just like the Iron Dome of the Israeli missile defense system, David’s Sling also consisted of three but more advanced components.
There are three radars in David’s Sling that can detect the incoming medium-range ballistic missiles very effectively.
David’s Sling consists of three command-and-control posts that receive the information detected by the radars and then activate the interceptor of the David’s Sling.
Interceptor or Stunner:
There are three interceptor batteries in David’s Sling and each battery has 50 interceptors.
The interceptor of David’s Sling is known as Stunner. This Stunner has a very unique dolphin-shaped nose and it can travel over Mach 15.
It means that the speed of the Stunner of David’s Sling is almost 5 km per second and that’s why, it can destroy the incoming ballistic missiles and mid-range rockets within a few seconds.
David’s Sling fills up the gap between Iron Dome’ short-range and Arrow system’s long-range capacities.
Limitations of the David’s sling:
Despite the fact that David’s Sling is an advanced Israeli missile defense system, but it also has some limitations and shortcomings.
Some Israeli military officials claim that the David’s Sling is upgraded to defeat the Russian Iskandar missiles, but that’s not true.
As the David’s Sling is also once used for combat purposes and was famous as Magic Wind. In 2018, an incident was reported when the Israel Army used these Magic Wand missiles against the Syrian Scud missiles.
The Syrian soldiers fired old tactical missiles at The David’s Sling interceptors and a David’s Sling’s interceptor missile destroyed itself and a second stunner crashed in Syria.
The Arrow system makes the third and upper layer of the Israeli missile defense system. It is designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles.
It is considered that the Arrow system is among the most advanced missile defense systems currently in existence.
The Arrow system of the Israeli missile defense system has two versions; Arrow-2 and Arrow-3.
The Arrow-2 is one of the oldest missile defense systems in the world. The development of Arrow-2 began in 1998 and was declared fully operational in October 2000.
The Arrow-2 was a jointly-funded program of the USA and Israel and it was designed to shoot down medium-to-long range incoming ballistic missiles.
From 1998 to 2014, the United States has funded almost $3.7 billion for the Arrow-2 that makes roughly half of the development cost.
Elements of the arrow-2:
The main elements of Arrow-2 of the Israeli missile defense system are
- A Green Pile EL/M-280 radar
- The arrow launcher and missile
- A missile launch centre known as Hazelnut Tree
- A battle management centre also called Citron Tree
Each launcher of the Arrow-2 can carry 6 missiles and it has the ability up to 14 simultaneous interceptions attempts.
Arrow-3 is the more advanced version of the Arrow system of the Israeli missile defense system. It is designed to intercept very long-range ballistic missiles.
According to some reports, the interceptor of the arrow-3 has a range up to 2400 km, so it can also work as an anti-satellite missile.
In this way Arrow-3 makes Israel among the few countries in the world that have the ability of shooting down a satellite.
The development of Arrow-3 was started in 2011 and in 2012 it passed its preliminary tests. In 2018 Arrow-3 declared functional by the Israeli Air Force.
Laser Weapons as the Israeli Missile Defense System:
Recently Israel is working on Laser weapons to intercept rockets and even anti-tank missiles. This program is known as Laser Beam and is one of the most advanced laser weapon programs in the world.
The Israeli missile defense system has spent more than $160 million on this laser technology and in April 2022, the Israeli Army has successfully tested their first laser weapon to intercept the ballistic missiles.
This laser weapon of the Israeli missile defense system will have many advantages over the other defense systems such as Iron Dome and the Arrow System.
Its cost is only $3.5 million per piece which is very low as compared to the interceptors of other Israeli missile defense systems.
It is also hoped that the future laser weapon will have the ability to detect and shoot down the hypersonic ballistic missiles.
But currently, Laser weapons have their limitations. For example, to destroy an incoming missile, a laser must be focused on it for some time.
This is feasible in case of conventional ballistic missiles as they don’t travel at very fast speed. But in case of the hypersonic missiles, it is next to impossible to focus on it for some time because of the ultra-fast speed of the hypersonic missiles.
The Israeli missile defense system has very unique layers, which makes it one of the most effective and advanced missile defense systems in the world.
The Iron Dome is designed to intercept the short-range rockets and missiles fired by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
On the other hand, the David’s Sling can be used against the medium-range but highly accurate ballistic missiles from Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Finally, the Arrow system is designed to detect and shoot down long-range missiles, such as the Shihab missile from Iran or Scuds missiles from Syria.
During the Israel-Palestine conflict in 2012 and Operation Protective Edge of Israel military in 2014, the Israeli missile defense system detected and shot down almost 90% missile attacks carried by Hamas from the Gaza Strip.
With the addition of Laser weapons in it, the Israeli missile defense system is becoming more effective than ever.