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Israel Hayom

The sling fizzled, but better to learn that lesson now

The hard part of this investigation ‎will delve into the operational decision-making process on ‎the ground, which led to the order to launch David’s ‎Sling interceptors for the very first time—only to ‎have them miss their targets. ‎

A test of Israel’s David’s Sling missile defense system in November 2012. Credit: Israeli Ministry of Defense/Flash90.
A test of Israel’s David’s Sling missile defense system in November 2012. Credit: Israeli Ministry of Defense/Flash90.
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

It is well-known that investigations launched by the ‎Israeli Air Force are like no others: They are swift, ‎thorough and leave no stone unturned. Those ‎participating in them know that they must be completely ‎honest about their mistakes because it is the only ‎way for the IAF to learn and improve. After all, ‎human lives are at stake.‎

The IAF will undoubtedly do the same when it ‎investigates what went wrong with the operational debut of the David’s Sling air-defense system on ‎Monday, when it fired two interceptors at errant ‎Syrian missiles. The missiles were launched as part ‎of the war between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ‎army and rebel forces in southwest Syria, but ‎threatened to breach Israeli airspace, prompting ‎David’s Sling into action.‎

It would take a systematic review to figure out what ‎went wrong, but even now it is clear that the ‎system, which was unable to hit its targets, ‎suffered a serious operational and technological ‎failure. ‎

To the credit of the team operating the David’s ‎Sling battery deployed near the Israel-Syria border, ‎the challenge they faced on Monday was highly ‎complicated.

The projectiles launched in Syria were Russian-made ‎OTR-21 Tochka missiles—tactical ballistic missiles ‎whose trajectory profile differs greatly from other ‎missiles. This may be why the IAF’s radars ‎identified them as a threat to Israeli, triggering ‎air-raid sirens in the country’s north and ‎subsequently, David’s Sling.‎

The system’s designers will most likely review ‎whether it could be calibrated more accurately to ‎prevent false launches in the future, but that’s ‎the easy part. The hard part of this investigation ‎will delve into the operational decision-making process on ‎the ground, which led to the order to launch David’s ‎Sling interceptors for the very first time—only to ‎have them miss their targets. ‎

The problem here is not the waste of resources—‎each interceptor costs $1 million—but the ‎issue of their failure. Other than their ‎intrinsic role, air-defense systems are supposed to ‎generate deterrence; to make the enemy think twice ‎before launched an offensive they know is doomed to ‎fail.‎ One must remember that David’s Sling, which counters medium- to long-range ‎projectiles, was designed to fend off ‎Hezbollah’s extensive rockets and missiles arsenal. ‎

The upside to Monday’s incident is that no harm was ‎done on either side of the border. The Syrian ‎missiles did not breach Israeli airspace, and the ‎Israeli missiles landed in an open area on the ‎Syrian side of the border. ‎

The downside is that David’s Sling, which was ‎declared operational in April, is clearly not ready ‎to be deployed. It still has to undergo some ‎improvements before it can meet the challenge of ‎defending a sector brimming with volatile ballistic ‎threats.‎

The IAF’s investigation should also see whether the ‎Air Defense Command was perhaps too eager to employ ‎David’s Sling. Striving to engage the enemy is a ‎welcome trait, but it doesn’t come without risk. ‎

Luckily, Monday’s failure took no toll on the ‎ground, but it is doubtful that failure was what the ‎Air Defense Command ‎had in mind with respect to ‎‎the ‎system’s operational debut.

Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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