The next step is the Arrow 3 exo-atmospheric missile interceptor, currently in development. The program was slated for the first test flight this month but that test has been postponed. With a thrust-vectoring kill vehicle designed for hit-to-kill intercept, Arrow 3 will provide the upper tier for the Israeli missile defense system, engaging hostile missiles in space, through their midcourse phase.
The Arrow 3 has twice the range, but only half the weight, of the Arrow 2 missile. The Arrow 3 receives a continuous stream of targeting data from optical sensors and the second-stage terminal booster has its own motor, giving it enhanced maneuverability.
An Arrow 3 battery alone is expected to be able to intercept a five-missile salvo within 30 sec., including the ability to launch missiles that cover multiple targets: The missile is agile enough to be redirected onto a different target after launch.
Another significant change will take place in 2013, as the new David's Sling missile system, currently in final developmental testing at Rafael, will reach initial operational capability. Unlike the task-specific Arrow 2 and Iron Dome, David's Sling was developed as a flexible, multi-purpose weapon system capable of engaging aircraft, cruise and guided missiles, and long-range ballistic rockets. Designed for land-based, maritime and airborne applications, the weapon—based on a common missile known as Stunner—is fitted with a dual-band seeker (radar and imaging infrared) and a powerful multi-pulse rocket motor that increases endgame maneuverability at extended ranges.
Israel's missile defense forces could also revive the shelved Missile Optimized Anti-Ballistic project, proposed during the 1990s. The concept was to shoot down hostile missiles during their ascent phase, using short-range Python missiles launched from high-altitude, long-endurance UAVs. However, at the time there were no suitable long-range vehicles available. Today, the Heron TP HALE UAV and the Stunner would be able to revive the concept. Along with intercepting missiles, a UAV would be able to provide early warning and tracking to the defense system.
Another key to Israel's defensive capability is the revolutionary decision-making technology produced by Rafael partner mPrest—and first deployed in the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system—to tie together the missiles and new sensors and manage complex engagements.
Finally, Israel is working closely with the U.S. on missile defense, including exercises and simulations showing that, in a crisis, its defenses could be reinforced by land- or sea-based U.S. assets.
Iranian planners also have to worry about other countermeasures. Until a quick-reaction solid-fuel missile can be deployed, missiles are vulnerable on the ground. Mobile weapons are susceptible to electronic attacks on their command-and-control links—not simply jamming, but also cyberattacks that could covertly interfere with the missile and launcher control systems.
The Israeli developments present Iranian planners with a dilemma. Clearly, a number of missiles are needed to pose a credible threat of “unacceptable damage” that would lead at least to a nuclear stalemate with Israel. However, that number will rise considerably over the next few years, as David's Sling and Arrow 3 are deployed—by an extent that Iran can only estimate, based on its best intelligence. That could make a rapid breakout tempting, but if the ISIS report is correct, a rapid breakout produces only a handful of warheads followed by a long gap—certainly long enough for Israel to produce its next round of improvements.
The result is that Iran's nuclear weapons program is engaged in a race with Israel's defenses—a race that Israel started in the 1980s. If Iran attempts a breakout—leading to testing a nuclear device as soon as possible—it may actually hamper its ability to build a nuclear arsenal that it can use without the potential of a catastrophic failure. At the same time, it risks provoking (indeed, justifying) a physical attack that would set its program back even more. And with its economy already suffering due to sanctions, Iran has no more resources to devote to further military expansion.