September 17, 2012
Credit: Credit: Noam Eshel
David Eshel Tel Aviv
Austere Challenge 12, the high-profile military drill that was initially scheduled for April, is now rescheduled for October. Reasons given for the postponement vary.
The official explanation was budget restrictions. However, some analysts say the actual decision could coincide with growing tensions between the Obama administration and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government on Israel's alleged persistent threats to attack Iran. Yet from a technical standpoint, this year's Austere Challenge drill is an important event to further test joint missile defense interoperations between the two militaries.
Although there seems to be a considerable reduction of U.S. military manpower taking part in the exercise in Israel, “Austere Challenge 12 remains the largest-ever ballistic missile defense exercise between our nations and a significant increase from the previous event in 2009,” says Air Force Lt. Col. Jack Miller, a Pentagon spokesman.
“The exercise has not changed in scope and will include the same types of systems as planned. All deployed systems will be fully operational with associated operators,” Miller says. The main goal of the exercise is to “improve interoperability” between American and Israeli anti-missile systems—which are already significantly linked.
The U.S. was expected to bring its Lockheed Martin Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile defense system and ship-based Aegis ballistic missile defense systems to Israel to simulate interception of missile salvos against the Middle Eastern country. But at this stage their physical participation is not assured, even though their roles will be represented by simulation, in conjunction with Israel's missile defense systems. On the Israeli side, Air Defense Wing 167, responsible for operating the country's missile defense systems—Arrow, Patriot, Iron Dome and the future David's Sling—will fully participate.
An important addition to this year's drill is the U.S. European Command's newly established 10th Army Air & Missile Defense Command (AAMDC), based at Kaiserslautern, Germany, which will use its new equipment for the first time during the upcoming exercise. The site has a tactical operations center that holds state-of-the-art technology such as sophisticated computers that can pull up imagery of any place in the world with clarity and share that data almost instantaneously. The tactical operations center can be set up or redeployed anywhere in less than a day.
AAMDC oversees European Command's Patriot units and also is responsible for the X-Band radar that is deployed and staffed in Israel's Negev desert since 2008. The radar monitors Iranian airspace 1,000 mi. to the northeast for any sign of a missile launch. The U.S. Army/Navy Transportable Surveillance Radar 2 (AN/TPY-2) is considered to be one of the most powerful systems available to track medium- to long-range ballistic missiles.