Air Force reservists who operate the Arrow and Patriot missile defense systems have recently begun spending one day a week on duty to sharpen their skills, amid fears that in a conflict with Iran, dozens of long-range missiles would be fired at Israel, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
"We are preparing for future threats that will fly at higher altitudes and have split warheads," a senior air defense official said. Intelligence sources estimate that Iran is developing a split-warhead capability for its long-range Shihab missile arsenal, which makes it more difficult to intercept.
To confront this new threat, the IDF has set up a joint command center at the air force base in the Negev that is home to the high-powered American X-Band radar, which was deployed in Israel last October. When the radar was first set up, US officials were reluctant to allow an Israeli military presence at the base. However, several months ago, when the situation called for it, the Americans changed their position and allowed Israeli officers to maintain a permanent presence at a joint command center inside the base. The base is normally operated by some 100 American soldiers from the European Command.
According to reports, the X-Band radar participated in last month's successful Arrow test. Military officials said the radar played an important role in Israel's defense architecture because, while incapable of directing the Arrow toward its target, it could successfully track a so-called "split warhead," which employs decoys. Once a warhead of this type comes apart, several targets appear on the radar screens of Arrow controllers, who then must work to identify the actual warhead. The X-Band radar, they explained, can readily do this and then transmit relevant data to the Arrow command center at Palmahim or Ein Shemer.
The decision to call up operators of the Arrow and Patriot systems was made last year by the head of the IAF's Air Defense Division, Brig.-Gen. Daniel Milo. Until recently, air crews were called up for only one day of reserve duty a week following their discharge from mandatory service. "We are working hard to be ready for the Iranian threat," a top IAF officer said. "We are preparing for barrages, split warheads and other surprises and therefore we need to retain a high operational level by everyone, including reservists."
Later this year, the IAF will hold an unprecedented and massive exercise with the US military to jointly test three different ballistic missile defense systems, including the Israeli-made Arrow and the American THAAD and Aegis, which will be brought specially to Israel for the exercise.
Upper photo US X band radar Raytheon
Lower photo Arrow battery deployed IDF