KODIAK — Two years after the plans were initially announced, the Israel Missile Defense Organization may finally be testing its Arrow 3 defense system this year, according to hints dropped by the organization’s director at a March 24 conference in Washington, D.C.
The Arrow 3 is an anti-ballistic-missile system, which has not yet been tested in U.S. airspace. The system is designed to intercept long-range missiles at a high enough altitude that it could safely destroy a nuclear warhead.
Speaking at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, IMDO Director Moshe Patel said that Israel will conduct a test of the system “in the near future,” according to a Voice of America report. While Patel didn’t go into further detail, he did mention Alaska as the test location.
“… with a lot of help from the U.S. administration, Congress and of course, AIPAC, we succeeded to receive a budget to conduct a flight test in Alaska and the plan is to do it in the near future,” Patel said during a panel discussion at the conference.
According to Patel, the main impetus of Arrow 3 tests is to protect Israel from a long-range Iranian missile strike.
“Arrow 3 is too big for the state of Israel,” Patel said. “It is supposed to be good against nuclear threats that are coming from Iran. (But) we have limitations in our arena to conduct flight tests because of safety.”
While Israel has conducted a series of Arrow 3 tests over Mediterranean waters during the past year, Patel said that it has a limited ability to shut down the air space, due to the frequency of commercial flights traveling between Europe and Africa.
The Arrow 3 tests have been teased since June 2017, when then-U.S. Missile Defense Agency Director and Navy Vice Adm. James Syring announced that the MDA was planning to test the system on Kodiak Island the following year. At the time, Syring told a congressional hearing that “one of the better places to test is in Alaska, from Kodiak, and we plan to do that next year.”
The tests would have occurred from the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska, a launch site located on Narrow Cape, which is owned by the Alaska Aerospace Corporation. In 2018, AAC built a temporary Life Support Area — or living quarters — near the launch site, at a cost of over $1 million. The facility includes a dining hall, a recreation area and a business center, as well as a kosher kitchen and a synagogue. It is designed to support up to 210 personnel.
The planned 2018 tests were, however, postponed. In May, a spokesperson for the Israeli Ministry of Defense emailed the Kodiak Daily Mirror stating, “after consultations between the U.S. Department of Defense and the Israeli Ministry of Defense, it was decided to postpone the Arrow 3 test in Alaska.”
The stated reason for the postponement was “in order to achieve maximum readiness for the American field test,” suggesting that a future test on American shores was planned.
“It should be emphasized that this has nothing to do with the operational system (Arrow 2 and Arrow 3) used by the Israeli Air Force,” the spokesperson wrote.
Speaking with BreakingDefense.org, former IMDO director Yair Ramati recently said that the Arrow 3 system will be tested in Kodiak against live targets over the summer, but did not go into further detail on the timing. According to Ramati, the test was delayed to allow for further work on an upgrade to the Arrow 3. The system operates as a hit-to-kill interceptor, with a smaller vehicle detaching from the missile body to hit the target directly and destroy it by force of impact.
When asked about the future Arrow 3 tests, AAC president Mark Lester said, “No comment.”
A representative from the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said that they could not comment on the tests.
A representative from the IMDO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In July, 2017, a successful test of a similar system took place at the PSCA. The MDA tested a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Air Defense, or THAAD, missile, which is designed to intercept short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.