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Israel claims success of Arrow 3 interceptor missile

In the ongoing quest for security from enemy missiles in Israel has seen a new success. Israel's Arrow 3 interceptor shot down an incoming missile in a carefully orchestrated test.

Israel's upgraded Arrow ballistic missile shield passed an interception test on Thursday, hitting a target in space meant to simulate the trajectory of the long-range weapons held by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, the Defense Ministry said.

The success was a boost for "Arrow 3," among Israeli missile defense systems that get extensive U.S. funding. Its first attempt at a full trial, held a year ago, was aborted due to what designers said was a faulty deployment of the target.

"The success of the Arrow 3 system today ... is an important step towards one of the most important projects for Israel and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) becoming operational," said Joseph Weiss, IAI's chief executive officer.

Arrow 3 interceptors are designed to fly beyond the earth's atmosphere, where their warheads detach to become 'kamikaze' satellites, or "kill vehicles", that track and slam into the targets. Such high-altitude shoot-downs are meant to safely destroy incoming nuclear, biological or chemical missiles.

The Arrow system is jointly developed by state-owned IAI and US firm Boeing Co. and U.S. officials were present for the test. The earlier Arrow 2 was deployed more than a decade ago and officials put its success rate in trials at around 90 percent.

But unlike a real-world missile attack where the interceptor, and its human operator, has mere minutes to locate, track and fire on target, today's test involved a year's planning, in which the interceptor's operator knew well in advance the timing and trajectory of the incoming missile.

Not ready yet

Today's success doesn't mean the interceptor is ready for deployment, but “it's a start,” Steven Pifer, director of the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at the Brookings Institute in Washington, told Deutsche Welle.

In addition, such tests have generally been done without the use of decoys, which some critics say makes the test an unreliable predictor of how the system would respond to a real world attack situation.

Pifer said it's not certain that a missile attack from Iran would include decoys in the near term, but that that would likely change over time.

"If you ask people at the Pentagon they'll tell you that the most daunting challenge is decoys,” Pifer said, “looking at dots (on a screen) and trying to figure out which one is a balloon and which one is a missile."

He added, “You begin testing in an ideal situation and then introduce more and more complications.”

Israel tests an earlier generation Arrow interceptor.

An earlier generation Arrow interceptor.

The United States has its own system for intercepting ballistic missiles in space, Aegis, but a senior Israeli official played down any comparison with Arrow 3.

While it "might be true" that the allies were alone in having such proven capabilities, "Israel is not on the level of the US," Yair Ramati, head of anti-missile systems at the Defense Ministry, told reporters.

Arrow serves as the top tier of an integrated Israeli shield built up to withstand various potential missile or rocket salvoes - short range rockets fired from the Gaza strip and Lebanon to Iran's long-range missiles. The bottom tier is the already deployed short-range Iron Dome interceptor, while a system called David's Sling, due to be fielded next year, will aim to shoot down mid-range missiles.

In the coming months the Defense Ministry and Israeli military will discuss a possible schedule for deployment of Arrow 3, Ramati said, adding that further tests of the system were expected.

The Arrow project was first launched in 1988 as part of the then Star Wars program under late US president Ronald Reagan that was abandoned in 1993.

bik/bw (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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