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The Arrow missile, seen here during its launch, successfully intercepted a ballistic missile that simulated Iran's most advanced possible future warhead. Israel says it's ready to shoot down nukes and traditional missiles from Iran and others.  (Source: AP)
"Bring it on," says Israel

While the 90s saw a time of relative peace, with the Iraq war and the escalate tensions with Iran, Israel is staying alert and preparing for any kind of assault.  The Israeli Air Force just wrapped up the 17th test of its new missile defense system and is confident that it can now shoot down any ballistic nuclear missiles that Iran or others could shoot at it.

The Palmahim Base launched an Arrow interceptor at a Blue Sparrow Missile, fired from an F-15 fighter jet.  The missile was designed to mimic an Iranian Shihab 3 missile, the kind of missile that Israel expects Iran to potentially use as a nuclear weapon delivery platform.  The Blue Sparrow has a split warhead and advanced radar-evading capabilities.  While the Shihab 3 ballistic missile currently lacks these capabilities, it is believed that Iran is working to develop them.  The test was jointly conducted by the IAF and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

An integral part of the new missile defense system is its new Green Pine radar system.  This highly accurate radar system was deployed to the Negev Desert in 2008.

Brig.-Gen. Daniel Milo, commander of the IAF's Air Defense Division said that the test's success, despite poor visibility, was a testament to the readiness of the country's missile defense program.  He states, "The Arrow technology is always improving, and we cannot forget that the enemy is also advancing with its capabilities."

It is unclear how well the system will work against Iran's latest missile, though -- the Sajjil.  The Sajjil is Iran's first solid fuel rocket.  Solid fuel allows the rocket to have a much greater accuracy than the previous liquid designs.  The missile has a range of 2,000 km.  Iran also has a stockpile of several BM25 intercontinental missiles which it purchased four or more years ago from North Korea.

The Arrow is also exceptionally effective against the Syrian Scud D, which is capable of delivering traditional and nontraditional payloads to anywhere in Israel.  Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the test "another achievement for Israel on its way to obtaining a multi-level missile defense system, starting with the Iron Dome to defend against short-range rockets, and to the Arrow."

The Israel missile defense system helps provide valuable test data to help the U.S. develop and improve its own missile shield.  The U.S., like Israel, claims its missile defense shield to be active and ready to destroy any nuclear threat.

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By Clairvoyance on 4/11/2009 3:04:37 PM , Rating: 2
The only reason ballistic missiles are still around is because politics prevented the development and deployment of technology to counter them. The inherent weaknesses of ballistic missiles (highly visible, easily predictable trajectory) and the principles of exploiting them are well known. The US has been intercepting ballistic missiles since the '60s. The Soviet Union built an operational ABM system around Moscow in the '70s. But it was politics, not practicality, that retarded ABM development, and thus gave the ICBM a several decades undeserved extension on life.

Cruise missiles are actually quite difficult to intercept. A radar on a 100ft mast has a radar horizon of about 45 km against a cruise missile flying at 100ft AGL. You need AWACS and fighters with advanced radars to reliably defend against low flying targets. The only reason it seems easy is because we've invested a lot into technology designed to do just that - the same systems effective against low flying aircraft are also effective against a small, suicidal unmanned low flying aircraft.

Conversely, the only reason intercepting ballistic missiles seems hard is because our defense systems built in the past decades are optimized for aircraft - comparatively slow, low altitude, and highly maneuverable. You need the opposite for ballistic missiles: large, high energy, very fast interceptors; maneuverability optional. Compare PAC-2 to PAC-3, SM-2 to SM-3 or 9M96 to 48N6E2. Very different missiles for very different roles, fired from similar platforms.

Only now has development begun again on ABM (and even now political obstacles still exist). Once ABM widely proliferates - barring politics, if you have a space program, you also have ABM - expect ballistic missiles to go the way of obsolete. All of the tactics and evolving technology that bombers and cruise missiles use in their arms race with defenses: low altitude penetration, evasion, armed penetration, electronic warfare, stealth; are not available to ballistic missiles.
The most significant challenge in shooting down ballistic missiles was not their extremely high speed, but the political barrier. Once this is gone, BMs don't have a prayer.

Before anyone says MIRVs or decoys:

MIRV technology was always a cost reduction measure. The infrastructure required to support, protect, and most importantly, control an ICBM is hugely expensive. Hardened silos, operations and maintenance crews, and C3I costs a lot. Coupled with treaties that limit numbers of missiles, it just makes sense to load up more relatively cheap warheads and get the most out of the big money you've already spent.
A MIRV bus is quite vulnerable - since warheads are unpowered, and the bus itself has only enough fuel to reposition itself between warhead separations, it's quite the basket with many eggs in it. Remember, the warheads only have a rather narrow window in which they must separate if they are to hit their targets. Too soon or too late and they'll miss. MIRVs were only viable in the absence of ABM.

Decoys are a dumb idea that's never been really taken seriously. It may be possible to use radar reflective surfaces to give an object a larger RCS. It may be possible to give it a power source to increase its thermal signature. And it's also theoretically possible to precisely engineer these features to resemble an actual warhead. But you also need the decoy to have the same approximate mass as the real warheads, or else their trajectories will be easily distinguishable. At this point... why not just add another warhead? Every decoy you put on your missile is one warhead the enemy just destroyed without ever firing a shot.

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