TEL AVIV — The U.S.-Israel Arrow Weapon System (AWS) and its Upper-Tier Arrow-3 missile scored its first intercept Thursday in a complex test designed to validate how the system can detect, identify, track and then discriminate real from decoy targets traveling quickly through space.
The milestone test, conducted over the Mediterranean Sea, paves the way toward low-rate initial production of the exo-atmospheric interceptor developed by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and supported by its U.S. partner, Boeing, program officials said.
Less than three minutes after an Israel Air Force fighter launched an improved Silver Sparrow target missile at 8:12 a.m. over the Mediterranean Sea, program officials at Palmachim Air Base launched the two-stage Arrow-3, which uses pivoting optical sensors and its own upper-stage kick motor to steer itself precisely into incoming targets.
By 8:17 a.m., the system had selected from among several objects flying through space — each not much larger than a one-liter bottle of Coke — and steered its warhead into a direct hit of the correct target, program officials said.
“The Arrow system in operational configuration detected and selected the right target from several in exo-atmospheric conditions. We intercepted the correct target very accurately as planned from the beginning,” said Yair Ramati, director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO).
“As soon as Arrow-3 opened its sensor, it activated its warhead very precisely into the middle of the correct target,” said Boaz Levy, general manager of IAI’s Systems, Missiles and Space Group.
“It was truly unprecedented, and it all occurred deep in space,” Levy added.
In a Thursday briefing, Ramati said the test brings the program “back on track” after a belatedly declared “no test” following an attempted interception in September 2014. In that test, while the AWS succeeded in detecting and tracking the target, the Silver Sparrow target missile, developed by state-owned Rafael, failed to eject its so-called low-mass warhead target.
“After two successful flyouts, one no-test and now one successful interception, we’re looking forward to working together with the US Missile Defense Agency” on continued spiral development and eventual deployment of Arrow-3 as part of the AWS, Ramati said.
Designed to fly nearly twice as high at half the weight of Arrow-2, the Arrow-3 will constitute Israel’s upper-most layer of the Arrow Weapon System in defense against advanced, maneuvering Iranian Shihab-class ballistic missiles.
The interceptor is expected to provide multiple opportunities to destroy targets in space, with backup provided by Arrow-2, which is designed to intercept targets high in Earth’s atmosphere.
In salvo scenarios, Arrow-3 will be able to shoot twice against a single target, assess for battle damage and, if needed, divert to other approaching threats.
According to Pentagon budget justification documents, the upper-tier Arrow-3 “will increase the system’s capability against advanced threats by providing approximately four times the current Arrow-2 battlespace.”
Additional flight tests are planned next year as IMDO and the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency continue the joint program of progressive improvements and interoperability of the AWS.
“The success of the Arrow 3 system today … is an important step toward one of the most important projects of the state of Israel and for Israel Aerospace Industries,” said Joseph Weiss, IAI’s president and chief executive officer.
The Block 4.5 AWS tested Thursday includes the Super Green Pine radar by IAI’s Elta Systems, the Citron Tree Battle Management Center and the Hazlenut Tree Launcher Control Center by Elbit Systems. State-owned Israel Military Industries produces the rocket motor for Arrow-2 and Arrow-3, with Boeing supporting the program with US-based production of the Arrow intercepting missiles.