Attacks by the Palestinian radical movement Hamas pointed to the strengths of Israel’s air defense system, especially the Iron Dome system, which can successfully stop short-range rockets (we wrote about it here). However, when it comes to attacks aimed at a greater distance, which the Jewish state faces especially from neighboring states, the Arrow system, or Šíp in Czech, enters the scene.
The relative novelty has shown its effectiveness even in the current war. It first protected the skies of the Jewish state in late October, when Yemen’s Houthi rebels, allies of Iran, fired ballistic missiles at Israel that traveled at least 1,600 kilometers. The Jerusalem Post then described the incident as the first successful use of the system to shoot down a ballistic missile.
A week later, according to the Israeli military (IDF), the system neutralized a long-range rocket fired by Hamas from the Gaza Strip at the Israeli city of Eilat. According to the Haaretz newspaper, the incident pointed to an improvement in the Palestinian movement’s strength, as it was the longest-range rocket it had ever fired.
In connection with this, some media write about the first ever combat shooting down of a missile in space, because the Arrow system reportedly destroyed the missile beyond the boundary that separates the atmosphere from outer space.
Shooting down missiles outside the Earth’s atmosphere
Now Israel’s most effective long-range missile defense system can actually intercept ballistic missiles while they are still outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Arrow 3 can then destroy their warheads, be they nuclear, biological, chemical or conventional. Disarming takes place closer to the launch site of the enemy missile, which the system can hit at a distance of up to 2,400 kilometers.
The missiles, which were developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) together with the American Boeing, are designed in such a way that warheads with charges are separated from them at a high altitude, which turn into a kind of “suicide” satellites that seek out and hit the attackers objects.
The successful use of the Arrow system, according to its developer and collaborator of the Jerusalem Institute for Security and Strategy Uzi Rubin, serves as a message to other states in the region that Israel has a fully functional anti-missile defense.
Even Arrow 3 is not without its faults. In comments to the Jerusalem Post, Rubin warned that the system might not detect some missiles in large-scale attacks, similar to what sometimes happens with the Iron Dome system.
By sending many rockets at once, the Hamas movement is trying to besiege the Iron Dome, to take advantage of its weaknesses. While a failure of this system aimed at short-range missiles would cause only relatively limited damage, a ballistic missile that would pass through IDF defenses could wreak much more havoc, the Israeli paper warns.
Arrow 2 compared to Arrow 3
Israel incorporated the latest version of the system into its air defenses six years ago. According to the BBC, its first version began to develop already after the war in the Persian Gulf in 1991, when Israel was hit by almost four dozen Scud missiles fired by Iraq.
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, the Arrow 2 was deployed for the first time in 2000. The device is designed to intercept medium-range missiles and has undergone a number of successful tests since its deployment after the turn of the millennium.
Both types of systems use two-stage solid-fuel fighters, and each of them includes a launcher, a precision Green Pine radar and a control center, Insider explained in its analysis.
Comparison of forces
The Israeli army has many times more resources, equipment and numbers of soldiers against the forces of Hamas and Hezbollah. Both movements are still able to compete with it, aided by supplies from Iran, as well as rich experience with asymmetric warfare.
Each launcher can carry up to six missiles, and the Arrow 3 system’s control center can attempt up to 14 hits at once, according to CSIS. The system is compatible with the United States’ Link-16 data link, which enables communication with the American Patriot air defense system and other types, the think tank said.
“The capabilities of the Arrow 3 system allow for a longer range, a higher altitude and more accurate strikes against ballistic missiles,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry compared the versions of the systems in a statement.
In both cases, this is a very expensive matter. According to the newspaper Haaretz, one missile of the Arrow 3 system costs approximately 2.2 million dollars (over 50 million crowns). In the case of the older version, the costs are even higher – one rocket fired from Arrow 2 will cost about 2.7 million dollars (over 62 million crowns).
However, the improvement of the system continues. Two years ago, Israel announced that it was developing a new, even more advanced Arrow 4 anti-missile shield in cooperation with the US.
Arrow 3 will also protect Germany
The Arrow 3 stands at the forefront of Israel’s air defenses, being the most powerful of all devices in terms of range. It is complemented by the “David’s Sling” system, which serves to destroy medium-range missiles and other targets such as airplanes, helicopters and drones. Last but not least, the Iron Dome system protects Israel’s skies, which works especially against artillery rockets and grenades.
In addition to these devices, the Israeli army also uses American Patriots.
Due to the effective defense, other countries are also fond of the system. Last month, Germany agreed with Israel to buy Arrow 3 systems for almost four billion euros. Berlin has been talking about buying the Israeli system for a long time and has created an alliance with the English name European Sky Shield Initiative, which also includes the Czech Republic.
Rubin, the former director of Israel’s missile defense program, said the Arrow 3 could also serve other European countries as a shield against long-range ballistic missiles. Germany should receive the first Israeli systems by the end of 2025.