August 13, 2012
David Fulghum Palmachim AB, Israel
Israel is small and its skies are periodically packed with fighters, airliners, helicopters, unmanned aircraft, missiles and rockets. The increasing complexity is driving planners to seek ever more coordination and synchronization of air, space, land and sea operations.
“De-confliction is more complicated than you could possibly imagine,” says Col. T, executive officer of the 167th Active Air Defense Wing at Palmachim AB south of Tel Aviv. (The officer's full name has been withheld for security reasons.) The wing already operates Arrow, Iron Dome and Patriot III air defense systems. Soon they will be supplemented with David's Sling and Arrow III.
“There has been a huge transformation involved in shifting from anti-aircraft defense to active air defense,” says T. “We're now a year into the change and we're not yet at the end of the process.”
Two issues triggered the shift: A dramatic change in threats, particularly in the last five years, and the move to an operational concept of active defense combined with a new arsenal of weapons to make it viable.
“Defense has become more complicated because of the numbers and categories of rockets and missiles involved used by states and nongovernment organizations such as Hezbollah [in Lebanon] and Hamas [in Gaza],” says T. “Moreover, the threats have become multidirectional. They can come from Egypt's Sinai [peninsula], Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and maybe other directions.” Certainly there have been concerns in recent years that terrorists might try to launch missiles and rockets from ships. So the first trigger for the change was the tactical ballistic missile.”
As a result, Israel has had to generate some new strategies. This produced the active-defense concept, the procurement of off-the-shelf weapons such as Patriot III, and some new weapons like Arrow III (for high-altitude ballistic missiles) and Iron Dome for low-altitude rockets and missiles. Arrow III has been undergoing flight tests, and four Iron Dome batteries have been fielded, each with a fixed radar, control center and up to three launchers.
“In the next few years, the [Israeli] air force is going to double the size of Iron Dome to 10 batteries,” says Brig. Gen Amikam Norkin, the new chief of IAF operations. “Then we will go to David's Sling [medium altitude] and Arrow III [very high altitude].”