It is one of the most advanced missile defense systems in existence and when fully operational will offer Israel an essential capability against Scud-type ballistic missiles. The program will also provide the U.S. with key research and technology for other theater missile defense programs.
Given Israel's small size the same as New Jersey all ballistic missiles deployed by hostile Mideast powers represent a potential strategic threat to the existence of the Jewish state. Thus, Israel must have an area antiballistic missile defense network, based on a high-altitude interceptor like the Arrow, to provide overall protection for the country's whole population.
Arrow's design is therefore optimized for the specific requirements of Israel's operational environment.
The range and speed of Arrow capable of reaching a height of 30 miles at nine times the speed of sound will allow hostile missiles to be intercepted high enough so that any weapons of mass destruction would not detonate or be dispersed over Israel. This also allows time for a second Arrow missile to be fired if it is determined that the first has not intercepted the incoming target. It is supposed to detect and track missiles as far away as 300 miles and then disable the incoming warhead by exploding within 40 to 50 yards of the target.
The system has no way to distinguish between types of warheads; therefore, it was designed to destroy all types.
Tests of the Arrow also led to the determination that should it intercept a missile with a chemical weapon warhead, no chemical agents would reach the ground given the warhead was destroyed above the jet stream. The jet stream flows from west to east so anything that comes down from the destroyed warhead should be blown back to the sender, according to Uzi Rubin, the former head of the Arrow program.
The joint effort took a dramatic step forward during the summer of 1995 with the first test flight of the new Arrow 2. A year earlier, an experimental Arrow 1 missile intercepted and completely destroyed a target missile in Israel. On September 14, 1998, a second successful test was conducted and on November 1, 1999, yet another successful test of the Arrow was conducted by the Israeli Air Force and Israel deployed the first battery of Arrow missiles on March 14, 2000.
The system is designed to intercept as many as 14 incoming missiles. The first test of its ability to launch multiple missiles at different targets was conducted in January 2003. In seven interception tests, six have been successful.
After meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai in the U.S. on March 27, 1998, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen indicated that Washington has agreed to expand the joint Arrow anti-missile project and provide $45 million in funding for a third battery of missiles for Israel. Cohen told reporters, that the U.S. is committed to maintaining Israel's qualitative edge, and we...concur that there is a need, for example, for Israel to acquire a third Arrow battery, and we will cooperate as best we can to see that that occurs.
The system's development is jointly funded by the United States and Israel. Since 1988, the United States has provided Israel with more than $1 billion in grants for research and development of the Arrow through the defense budget. President Bush requested $60 million for the Arrow for FY2003. The 2004 budget also includes a request for $136 million for the Arrow, of which $66 million is for an improvement program and $70 million for production. The U.S. has also provided funding for two programs to compliment the Arrow, the Boost Phase Intercept program ($53 million) and the Tactical High Energy Laser ($139 million).
The Arrow program has provided the United States with a wide range of technical and operational data and experience that benefit similar American weapons development projects such as the THAAD missile, also designed counter missile attacks. As of now, however, the U.S. Army says it will not procure the Arrow for American use.
Two Arrow batteries have been deployed, one at the Palmachim base to provide cover for Tel Aviv and another near the city of Hadera. A third battery is in development, and will have twice the range of Arrow 2 even though it is significantly smaller and weighs half as much.
In December 2005, Israel tested the Arrow missile against a mock-up of an Iranian Shihab-3 missile. The Arrow successfully intercepted the missile during the test to expand its range to a higher altitude and to evaluate the interface between the Arrow and the Patriot missile system.
Arrow tests continue on a regular basis. In 2011 and 2012, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) tested the Arrow-3, a new missile in the program designed to destroy, in space, medium-range ballistic missiles fired from countries such as Iran before they reenter Earth's atmosphere. Once fully operational, Arrow 3 will be the most advanced missile defense system in the world. The interceptor missile for Arrow-3 is smaller, more agile and flies faster and higher than any previous anti-missile system and the price of the interceptor is expected to be cheaper than that of current models.
In response to the succesful test of Arrow in February 2012, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, "This is an important technological achievement and an important step in Israel's progress in the field of defense... the successful test demonstrated again, the high technical capabilities of engineers, technicians and employees of the Israeli security industry that participated in the test."
In February and July 2013, Israel completed more successful tests of the Arrow-3 interceptor (February) and rocket propulsion (July) systems. In January 2014, Israel completed a second successful test of Arrow-3 interceptor missile.
"The successful test is a major milestone in the development of the Arrow-3 Weapon System and provides further confidence in future Israeli defense capabilities to defeat the developing ballistic missile threat," a statement from the Defense Ministry in February said. "This is the first flyout, it is the first time that (it) flew through the air. This is the first time the interceptor with all of its equipment took off and flew," read a statement following the July test.
According to Tal Inbar, head of the Space Research Center at the Fisher Institute for Air & Space Strategic Studies, "The operational significance of the Arrow 3, once its development is complete, is clear: Israel will be better able to defend itself, at higher altitudes and further away from its borders. Because of the great speed and high altitude involved in the interception, it will be possible to launch additional interceptor missiles if the first one misses its target. The Arrow 3 will significantly increase Israel's ability to defend itself against the ballistic missiles of hostile countries."
In late 2014 Israel suffered a series of embarassing technical failures when conducting tests of the Arrow 2 and 3. During a test of the Arrow 2 system in September 2014, the missile successfully acquired and tracked it's target but did not intercept the intended dummy missile. Officials stated that this failure was due to a minor software glitch and should be fixed easily. The failure of this test was not reported until long after it occured. A second test was due to be carried out on the Arrow 3 missile on December 16, but when the dummy target fired the missile did not follow. Due to technical problems that arose last minute during the trial, the dummy missile that was fired over the sea was not intercepted by the Arrow 3 missile. Israeli Defense Ministry officials released a statement claiming that "conditions were not ripe for launching the intercepting missile." Defense officials did not refer to this test as a success or a failure, but simply stated that certain conditions for the launch were not in place and it could not be completed.
Sources: American Israel Public Affairs Committee; CNN (February 25, 2013); Haaretz (December 5, 2005); Israel Hayom (February 26, 2013); Jerusalem Post (February 10, 2012, November 4, 2012, September 3, 2013); Washington Post, (January 5, 2003); YNet News (July 12, 2013); Times of Israel (January 3, 2014); Middle East Security Report and Clyde R. Mark, "Israel: U.S. Foreign Assistance," Congressional Research Service, (October 3, 2003); Uzi Rubin, "The Origins of Israel's Arrow System," Jerusalem Issue Brief Vol. 2., No. 19, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, (March 5, 2003); Haaretz (December 16 2014)