Pending further successful final run, Israel could bring David’s Sling online in months, boosting long-range missile defenses.
The David’s Sling anti-ballistic missile system successfully passed a series of trial runs, shooting down incoming surface-to-surface and air-to-surface-missiles in a drill simulating rocket bombardments of Israeli cities, Defense Ministry officials said Wednesday.
The Defense Ministry indicated that the mid-range missile defense system, which is capable of intercepting incoming projectiles from over 300 kilometers (180 miles) away, should become operational in two months.
The series of tests was carried out under the auspices of the Defense Ministry’s research and development branch in conjunction with the US Missile Defense Agency and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.
The system’s MMR radar discovered and tracked an incoming missile and submitted the data to the battery’s central nerve center, whereupon the flight-path was mapped and an interception point calculated. The system then launched an anti-ballistic missile that intercepted the target, destroying the approaching rocket as planned.
The system is set to become fully operational after a final test, at which point it will complement the Iron Dome and Arrow missile defense systems. The Defense Ministry expects to deploy first batteries for use by summer.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told the visiting US House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday that the system’s testing had been “successful” and that it should go into full operational use next year.
David’s Sling has thus far undergone four examinations over the past few years.
Yair Ramati, the head of Israel’s missile defense organization, said that once operational, David’s Sling will protect Israeli civilians from those rockets beyond the reach of Iron Dome’s shorter range, and that the two systems will work simultaneously during the next outbreak of hostilities.
“The system is designed to intercept… threats from Lebanon. Representatives from the US were present during the trials and are full partners in the project,” Ramtay told the Ynet news site.
Israel believes Hezbollah possesses a large stockpile of GPS-guided long range missiles, capable of covering large swaths of Israeli territory, including major population centers such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A senior IDF general said Wednesday that the next conflict with the Lebanese Shiite militia could see a thousand rockets fired at Israel each day.
Channel 2 News reported, however, that the system’s prime use would be to protect strategically sensitive facilities and military bases, and that it would not be capable of thwarting vast missile onslaughts on the scale that Hezbollah could mount. Rather, its deployment would constitute a further “deterrent” to Hezbollah, the TV report said, and would need to be accompanied by a military offensive deep into Lebanon to counter any major Hezbollah attack.
David’s Sling could be used to intercept Hezbollah’s most potent missiles and, potentially, those from Iran, the report added.
“Shlomo,” who spearheaded the project at Rafael and whose full name was censored by the Hebrew press, told reporters that the achievements witnessed during the fourth trial run were remarkable.
“The success of the experiments is phenomenal and we were deeply moved by it. [We saw] outstanding results in all components of the system. [The type of] interceptions made during the experiments were the first of their kind ever made at the national level,” he said.
Israeli officials have been seeking additional funding from the US government for missile defense — said to amount to over $300 million, of which $250 million would be earmarked for David’s Sling.
David’s Sling is part of a four pronged anti missile defense umbrella designed to protect Israel from short and long range missiles. Iron Dome protects against smaller, short-range threats up to 70 kilometers; David’s Sling, covers mid-range threats from 70-300 kilometers; Arrow 2, for long-range attacks; and Arrow 3, for incoming missiles from up to 2,500 kilometers away.
Of the operational systems, only Iron Dome has been used in combat. Defending against short-to-mid-range rockets, it intercepted roughly 90 percent of its targeted projectiles during the conflict with Gaza, according to figures released by the army.
On the offensive end, Israel has reportedly also been testing the Jericho 3, an intercontinental ballistic missile said to have a range of over 10,000 kilometers.