* Arrow III is part of Israel's layered aerial shield
* US-backed system will hit incoming missiles in space
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM, Feb 25 Israel carried out a
successful first test on Monday of its upgraded Arrow
interceptor, which is designed to destroy in space the kind of
missiles held by Iran and Syria, defence officials said.
The U.S.-backed Arrow III will deploy "kamikaze" satellites
that track and slam into ballistic missiles above the earth's
atmosphere, high enough to allow for any chemical, biological or
nuclear warheads to disintegrate safely.
Monday's test was the first flight of the system, but did
not involve the interception of any target. Israel deployed the
previous version, Arrow II, more than a decade ago and says it
has scored around a 90 percent success rate in live trials.
"Arrow II was 'Star Wars'. This is 'Distant-Star Wars',"
Yoav Turgeman of state-run Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI),
the system's manufacturer, told Army Radio.
Launched from a coastal air base south of Tel Aviv, the
Arrow III interceptor missile manoeuvred for 6 1/2 minutes over
the Mediterranean sea, Israeli defence officials said. The test
was attended by representatives of U.S. partner firm Boeing
and the Pentagon.
"The success of the test is an important milestone in the
operational capabilities of the State of Israel to be able to
defend itself against threats in the region," Israel's Defence
Ministry said in a statement.
A ministry official who briefed foreign reporters said the
timing of the test, which took months to prepare and was
postponed from mid-2012, was unrelated to current Israeli fears.
Topping these are Iran, whose disputed nuclear drive is the
focus of international sanctions, and Syria, which has been
wracked by a two-year-old civil war and whose arsenal is
believed to include chemical warheads.
Israel plans another Arrow III flight test followed by a
simulated interception in space over the Mediterranean, the
defence official said. Israeli officials previously predicted
the new system would be deployed by 2014 or 2015, alongside
"Israel's hand is always outstretched in peace but we are
also prepared for other eventualities. In this vein, I praise
the successful test of the Arrow III," Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu said in a statement.
Arrow is the long-range segment in Israel's three-tier
missile shield. This also includes the successfully deployed
"Iron Dome", which targets short-range rockets and mortar bombs
favoured by Palestinian guerrillas in Gaza, and the mid-range
"David's Sling", still under development. They can be deployed
alongside U.S. counterpart systems like the Aegis.
Officials say that if Arrow failed to hit an incoming
missile at high altitude, there would still be time to destroy
it with other systems before it landed on its intended target.
The United States and Israel have been developing Arrow
jointly since 1988. Washington says helping Israel develop the
capability to shoot down missiles will help prevent wars in the
In a statement, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency called
Monday's launch "a major milestone" which "provides confidence
in future Israeli capabilities to defeat the developing
ballistic missile threat".
Boeing thinks other potential clients for the system may
include India, Singapore and South Korea.
"As we prove out that technology, and show that it's not
only affordable but effective, we think there will be additional
global market opportunities for that capability," Dennis
Muilenburg, chief executive of Boeing's defence, space and
security arm, told Reuters last year.
The U.S. financial contribution to progressively improved
versions of the Arrow system tops $1 billion, the Congressional
Research Service said in a March 2012 report to lawmakers.