A first-of-its-kind missile defense test held by the Israeli Defense Ministry, together with Rafael Advanced Systems and the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, has seen interceptor missiles from two different types of air-defense systems fired at the same targets.

The purpose of the live-fire trials was to test the ability of multiple tiers in Israel’s air-defense system to share the same sky picture and deal with the same threats, giving air defenders multiple opportunities to strike incoming enemy missiles.

During the tests, held over the Mediterranean Sea off the Israeli coastline in recent days, interceptors from two Rafael-made systems—David’s Sling and Iron Dome—were fired at targets simulating a range of advanced threats, such as maneuvering ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. The Iranian axis threatens Israel with such offensive capabilities from several fronts.

The Israel Air Force and Navy participated in the drill as well. A combination of naval and civilian vessels fired the simulated threats to test the ability of Israel’s multi-tier defense system to detect, track and kill the threats in time.

“This successful series is a critical milestone in the augmentation of Israel’s operational capabilities in defending itself against current and future threats,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

“The series tested the capabilities of a new and advanced version of the David’s Sling weapon system and included a number of scenarios simulating future threats. The results of this test will enable the Israel Missile Defense Organization [a part of the Defense Ministry] and industry engineers to evaluate and upgrade the system’s capabilities.”

A combination of naval and civilian vessels fired the simulated threats to test the ability of Israel’s multi-tier defense system to detect, track and kill the threats in time. Credit: Israeli Ministry of Defense.

‘This is the concept of inter-operability’

Senior Israeli defense officials who spoke to journalists on Tuesday explained that combining air-defense systems in a live-fire trial marked a key precedent and that the trial’s success has made Israel safer.

The head of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, Moshe Patel and the and the head of Rafael’s Air and Missile Defense Division,  Brig. Gen. (Res.) Pini Yungman, explained that the David’s Sling system has a much longer interception range than Iron Dome and operates at higher altitudes. “David’s Sling is a zone defense,” said Yungman. “Iron Dome has a shorter range and intercepts at a lower altitude. This means that once you are launching against the same target, David’s Sling is trying to intercept it at longer ranges in the same defended area. If you miss, you have redundancy to intercept with Iron Dome. This is the idea of a multi-year system.”

Patel said that the third component of the system—Israel Aerospace Industries-made Arrow interceptors—simulated their own high-altitude responses to the threats, taking a computerized part in the trials.

David’s Sling Stunner interception missiles were first fired at threats, and Iron Dome Tamir interceptors were fired a few seconds later, said Yungman. “This is the concept of inter-operability. I think it’s the first time ever that we implemented not only inter-operability in tracking the threats and sharing the data, the air picture, but also the first time ever that we launched against the same threats with different systems in one, integrated command and control system,”

Sa’ar 5-type navy corvettes fired Iron Dome interceptors, while David’s Sling was fired from a civilian ship at sea.

When both systems operate against the same threat, the interception range approaches 100 percent, said Yungman. “We are very near to that in a multi-tier system. Israel is safer than before.”

Patel said that each system has its own array of radars and sensors, all connected into a single air-defense architecture, with each radar informing the other air defense systems of aerial activities.

“We don’t care where the detection started,” said Yungman. “Rafael’s method of developing Iron Dome and David’s Sling is an open architecture method. It doesn’t matter which sensor detected and tracked the threat. The air picture is common. This is the main idea of interoperability.”

The trials also tested the ability to shoot down hostile unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

‘All of the targets were destroyed’

U.S. Vice Admiral Jon Hill,  director of the Missile Defense Agency, watched the trials live by video conference and later told Defense Minister Benny Gantz that he could “not be happier for the State of Israel” following the trial’s success.

“We have full coordination with the Missile Defense Agency,” said Patel. “Even though there is a pandemic, we have secure lines, and the director of the MDA, Admiral Hill, was watching the flight test.”

Other defense companies from Israel and the United States, including IAI-Elta and Raytheon, also took part.

“The results were magnificent,” said Patel. “All of the targets were destroyed in all the tests—no target stayed in the air after the interception. Our missiles destroyed all of them.”


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