Posted 10 August, 2004 13:16 Print-friendly version

Arrow Program Officials Brace for Next Live Test


Israeli government and industry officials are anxiously preparing for yet another test of the Arrow anti-missile system, this time against a Scud-D-type target whose warhead will separate in flight in an attempt to confuse the defending interceptor.

In interviews here, officials say the test scheduled in the next few weeks at the U.S. Navy’s Point Mugu Sea Range in California ups the ante for the joint U.S.-Israel interceptor program by forcing it to demonstrate for the first time its ability to distinguish between an actual threat and a decoy.

The test will follow the program’s successful July 29 intercept, also conducted at Point Mugu, in which the Arrow — traveling at more than eight times the speed of sound — destroyed an unarmed, ship-launched Scud-B missile tens of kilometers above the Pacific Ocean.

“We’re all biting our nails over this next test, since they raised the performance bar sky high. If you ask me, the test goals are a bit too rigorous, and some of us fear we may be overextending ourselves,” said a former senior government official with continued access to the program.

In an Aug. 8 interview, the former official said the test will validate software upgrades to the radar and missile sensors that are not scheduled for full deployment for another year or more. “In a way, this is a huge gamble. If we succeed, it will be a first for this type of warhead on this type of target. But if we fail, we’ll suffer a stigma that we could have avoided until we’re a bit more ready.”

Israel’s Ministry of Defense and Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd. (IAI), prime contractor for the Arrow Weapon System, declined to discuss details about the upcoming test. However, senior officials from both organizations noted that the purpose of testing is to challenge the system and to learn not only from successes, but from occasional mistakes. “I bite my nails before each and every test, since in addition to the weapon system itself, so many other variables can impact the final test results,” Boaz Levy, Arrow program director at IAI, said Aug. 9.

Levy attributed the successful July 29 intercept in large part to the extent of cooperation and coordination between U.S. and Israeli program officials and military operators.

“It was quite a logistical feat to transport all our system elements to the U.S. West Coast, to deploy them at two different locations about a 100 kilometers apart, and to discover that once erected and deployed, that all worked as planned. And this could not have happened without the enormous cooperation we received from our U.S. partners,” Levy said.

In an Aug. 8 interview, Arieh Herzog, director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, also hailed the intense cooperation that led to success of the July 29 test. He noted that the July 29 test as well as follow-on tests planned within the context of the Arrow System Improvement Program also would yield significant benefits to ongoing U.S. missile defense development programs, such as Patriot Pac-3, the Theater High Altitude Area Defense system and the U.S. Navy’s Sea-Based Midcourse Interceptor.

“When you have a high in the sky explosion like we had in our last test, it yields important data for all the other interceptor programs. It helps them better understand the phenomenon of debris and the concept of fireball in the sky, which also is relevant to other programs,” Herzog said.

Although Herzog declined to elaborate, engineers here said he was referring to a well known phenomenon common to all missiles with optical sensors, in which the sun causes white stars, or blind spots, that must be avoided through correction of attitude and missile trajectory.

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