The United States and Israel have a long history of conducting joint training manuevers between their respective military forces. With the proliferation of ballistic missiles across the Middle East in the 2000's, the two countries have strengthened their anti-missile, air-defense and advanced artillery training.
In March 2005, anti-aircraft units from the U.S. Army and the Israel Defense Forces held an extensive joint anti-aircraft exercise in Israel. The forces practiced the coordinated operation of anti-aircraft systems including the Arrow anti-ballistic intercepter missile and the Patriot missile air defense batteries. Roughly 1,000 U.S. troops participated.
In November 2005, the air defense crews of the 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade's 5th Battalion trained with the Israel Defense Forces 137th Theater Missile Defense Battalion. The exercise, codenamed "Juniper Cobra," tested the effectiveness of both nations' air defense artillery systems. This training took place in Germany at the Patriot Conduct of Fire Trainer.
“We are practicing techniques and procedures with our Israeli counterparts to work out interoperability issues with the Patriot system and the Arrow system, and trying to resolve those issues,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Lloyd Chaffee.
In October 2009, the U.S. and Israel held a renewed "Juniper Cobra" air-defense exercise that tested missile interceptors. American forces taking pat in the maneuvers included 17 ships and ground personnel operating the Aegis and THAAD missile interceptors, joined with Israel's Arrow II missile-killer for computer-simulated tests.
In November 2012, the U.S. and Israel collaborated in the largest aerial defense drill between the two allies to date. Codenamed "Austere Challenge," the drills were conducted both in Israel and offshore and involved approximately 1,000 U.S. troops in Israel with an additional 2,500 troops in Europe and elsewhere in the Mediterranean. The exercise also tested air defense capabilities and training of both countries.
U.S. troops manned Patriot anti-missile systems, an Aegis ballistic missile defense ship and other air defense systems, while Israeli troops tested Iron Dome and Arrow 2 systems, in addition to bringing the developing David’s Sling system into various scenarios.
On November 12, the IDF and U.S. Army launched four Patriot missiles into the Mediterranean Sea from the Palmachim Air Force base in Israel, near Rishon Letzion and Yavne. Additionally, batteries for the Patriot Pac-3, the most advanced model of the American-made missile, were stationed across Israel during the drill.
According to Israel's Defense Minister Edud Barak, "These are very important times for advancing our missile defense coordination in the face of future tests, and also for ongoing activity against Hamas and the terror organizations in Gaza, which is likely to worsen and expand." Because of the missile and rocket threats that Israel faces on so many of its borders, Austere Challenge was designed to simulate the possibility of wide-ranging rocket fire from enemies both near and far, including a possible war with Iran and Hezbollah. The Israeli defense establishment estimates that there are 60,000 missiles in Lebanon, including 5,000 rockets in the hands of Hezbollah that could reach the area between Hadera and Gedera, not to mention another few hundred capable of reaching southern Israel.
Israel will also test its Arrow 3 and Magic Wand systems, which have not yet been used in combat, in case it needs to use these more advanced defense systems. Also, the Israel Defense Ministry's Israel Missile Defense Organization ("Homa") is exploring the ability of these systems to continue working even if their computer links are down, which could happen if a cyber-attack against Israel's missile defense succeeds in disrupting communication.
In May 2014, nearly 700 American troops who belong to the U.S. European Command traveled to Israel for the biennial Juniper Cobra joint exercise. The joint military exercise focuses on training defense troops on how to respond to potential missile attacks. Two American ships equipped with the Aegis Combat System that has missile-intercepting technology will participate in the joint exercise from the Mediterranean Sea. When Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon toured the Hatzor Airbase with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, he told the troops from both countries that “We are here to witness what we are talking about when we claim about the unshakable bond between the U.S. as the greatest democracy all over the world, and the state of Israel, the only democracy in our tough neighborhood, the Middle East.” He articulated that among Israel's challenges is “how to intercept rockets and missiles coming from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip. We've got a challenge, but we can cope with it.” According to an official European Command statement, this Juniper Cobra exercise has nothing to do with any specific threats or tensions in the region and is rather an opportunity to improve preparedness and coordination between Israel and the United States.
Sources: Defense Talk, Army News Service, “Air defenders train with Israeli counterparts,” (November 4, 2005); IDF, Washington Post ; Jerusalem Post (April 23, 2001); Haaretz (June 10, 2007) (May 18, 2014); U.S. Department of Defense; IDF Blog (October 20, 2012), (October 25, 2012); Jerusalem Post (November 12, 2012)