Israel and the United States are developing the Arrow-4 air defense system, which builds on a thirty-year legacy of building and testing anti-ballistic missile systems. The current development was announced on February 18. The Israel Missile Defense Organization and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency commence development of the Arrow-4 Weapon System, Israel’s Ministry of Defense said.
“Along with the development of vital offensive capabilities, the defense establishment is constantly working to defend Israel’s skies against ballistic threats through the ongoing development of its multi-layered [missile defense] array,” said Israel’s Minister of Defense Benny Gantz. Gantz has been behind a major push to seal a deal with the U.S. for new KC-46A refuelers and more F-35s as well as possibly new helicopters and V-22s. The Arrow-4 development will be a crowning achievement for Israel because it will boost the capabilities of Arrow 2 and Arrow 3.
“The development of Arrow-4 together with our American partners will result in a technological and operational leap forward, preparing us for the future battle field and the ever-evolving threats in the Middle East and beyond. I congratulate the Israel Missile Defense Organization, which is currently marking its 30th anniversary, as well as the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and Israel Aerospace Industries, thanks to which we are able to defend Israel’s home front,” said Gantz.
This is important because Israel created the IMDO after the Scud missile threat from Iraq in 1991. It is now thirty years since a defenseless Israel had to rely on the U.S. Patriot system to protect itself from Scuds. Israel stood by and watched as the United States sought to destroy Saddam Hussein’s Scud capabilities in the war, a largely wasted effort because despite some 1,000 missions, few were found in Iraq’s western desert. Now a new threat looms. Iran is sending ballistic missiles to Iraq, according to reports since 2018. Iran also has a large number of precise solid and liquid fueled missiles, from the Fateh and Shahab series to the Sejjil, Ghadr, Qiam and Zolfagher that it has used and showcased over the last years. Iran fired ballistic missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq in January 2020. It also used them against Kurdish dissidents and ISIS. Iran’s missiles are improving their ranges and their precision, and Tehran is working on new transports or TELs for them. Iran also has a plethora of cruise missile and drone threats.
Israel’s multi-layered air defense system, including Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow, is supposed to be cable of confronting all these threats. Israel held a complex drill in December to show off the capabilities and announced new capabilities for Iron Dome in early February. Arrow is therefore another missile in the quiver of Israel’s defense. It is also the legacy air defense weapon, developed with the United States and with Boeing in the past, its first iteration went into serve in 2000 and Arrow 3 was operational by March 2017. Arrow-4 will be the next generation of endo-exoatmospheric interceptors in the Arrow weapon system, which today consists of Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 interceptors, Israel says. This means it can confront targets in the atmosphere and beyond. “Arrow-4 will be an advanced, innovative interceptor missile with enhanced capabilities. It will address a wide range of evolving threats in the region and will replace the Arrow-2 interceptors over the next decades. Its development is led by the IMDO and the U.S. MDA, with IAI as the prime contractor for the development and production of the system and its interceptors,” says Israel. Vice-Admiral Jon Hill, the head of the MDA praised the cooperation with Israel. “Arrow-4 is a cooperative program between the MDA and IMDO that illustrates U.S. commitment to assisting the government of Israel in upgrading its national missile defense capability to defend the State of Israel from emerging threats.”
America supports Israel’s air defense programs to the tune of $500 million a year. This benefits the United States as well because Iron Dome is now being made in the America with Raytheon; and IAI, which develops the Arrow-4, has worked with Boeing in the past. It is not clear how these partnerships may change in the future. The U.S. army received the first two Iron Dome batteries it has acquired over the past year.
“Over the last three decades, we have developed one of the most advanced missile defense arrays in the world, built of four layers with demonstrated capabilities. These capabilities are being constantly improved against emerging threats. Arrow-4 will have unprecedented flight and interception capabilities, ensuring the security of the State of Israel,” said Moshe Patel,
Head of the Israel Missile Defense Organization.
IAI believes this interceptor will be the most advanced of its kind in the world and will provide a new layer of defense to the State of Israel and its citizens. The Arrow system included radar from IAI subsidiary Elta and also has a battle management system from Israel’s other defense giant Elbit Systems. Israel has tested Arrow 3 with the United States in Alaska in 2019.
The overall picture is that Israel now has some of the most advanced, integrated and multi-layered air defense in the world. It is the most well defended country per capita anywhere. This is partly due to the kind of threats it faces. The reason terror groups, Saddam Hussein and now Iran, all preferred missile threats is partly because they borrowed from Soviet doctrine. The Soviets developed the Katyusha and Scud missiles. It’s no surprise that the Iranian-backed Houthis used ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia in the past and that pro-Iranian militias in Iraq use the 107mm and 122mm rockets against U.S. forces, most recently targeting Erbil.
Iran developed its extensive missile program with North Korean cooperation and borrowing from technology that had been developed in North Korea, China and Russia. It has now built on that technology, working with solid and liquid fuel and testing missiles often. In addition, Iran has helped Hamas in Gaza develop and increase ranges of their missiles. It has also aided Hezbollah, trafficking missiles and rockets and technology via Syria to Lebanon. Tehran has supplied precision guided munitions and sought to entrench itself in Syria and build factories for Hezbollah to machine missiles. All of this has led Israel to increase its capabilities. This is an arms race between the missile builder and the air defender. Not long ago, Israeli cities were exposed to rocket fire, whether Katyushas raining down on northern Israel in the 1980s or in the 2006 war with Hezbollah, or from Hamas aiming at Sderot in 2009. Now that has all changed. Since the Iron Dome revolution in Israel ten years ago, Israelis have felt protected. The development of David’s Sling and Arrow are intended for the major threats that may emerge. So far Israel has used Arrow once, according to public reports, to stop a SAM that was fired from Syria and heading toward Israel over Jordan. David’s Sling was also used at least once but questions remain about how well it performed. Recent tests have shown that the systems work well together. The Arrow-4 will add to this capability.
Seth J. Frantzman is a Jerusalem-based journalist who holds a Ph.D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis and a writing fellow at Middle East Forum. He is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (Gefen Publishing) and Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machines, Artificial Intelligence, and the Battle for the Future (Forthcoming, Bombardier Books). Follow him on Twitter at @sfrantzman.