The Arrow Missile Program

The Arrow “anti­tactical ballistic missile” program is one of the centerpieces of the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship. It is one of the most advanced missile defense systems currently in existence. The Arrow will offer Israel an essential capability against Scud-type ballistic missiles, and provides the U.S. with key research and technology for other “theater missile defense” programs.

Given Israel's small size — the same as New Jersey — all ballistic missiles deployed by hostile Mideast powers represent a potential “strategic” threat to the existence of the Jewish state. Thus, Israel must have an “area” anti­ballistic missile defense network, based on a high-altitude interceptor like the Arrow, to provide overall protection for the country's whole population. Arrow's design is optimized for the specific requirements of Israel's operational environment.

The range and speed of Arrow — capable of reaching a height of 30 miles at nine times the speed of sound — will allow hostile missiles to be intercepted high enough so that any weapons of mass destruction they carry will not detonate or be dispersed over Israel. This also allows time for a second Arrow missile to be fired if it is determined that the first has not intercepted the incoming target. It is supposed to detect and track missiles as far away as 300 miles and then disable the incoming warhead by exploding within 40 to 50 yards of the target.

The system has no way to distinguish between types of warheads; therefore, it was designed to destroy all types. The missile was tested to determine whether chemical agents would reach the ground after an interception if a warhead was loaded with a chemical weapon. The conclusion was that nothing would reach the ground if the warhead is destroyed above the jet stream. The jet stream flows from west to east so anything that comes down from the destroyed warhead should be blown back to the sender, according to Uzi Rubin, the former head of the Arrow program.

The joint effort took a dramatic step forward during the summer of 1995 with the first test flight of the new “Arrow 2.” A year earlier, an experimental Arrow 1 missile intercepted and completely destroyed a target missile in Israel. Flight tests of the Arrow 2 are continuing. On September 14, 1998, a successful test was conducted. On November 1, 1999, a successful test of the Arrow was conducted by the Israeli Air Force and Israel deployed the first battery of Arrow missiles on March 14, 2000.

The system is designed to intercept as many as 14 incoming missiles. The first test of its ability to launch multiple missiles at different targets was conducted in January 2003. In seven interception tests, six have been successful.

After meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai in the U.S. on March 27, 1998, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen indicated that Washington has agreed to expand the joint Arrow anti-missile project and provide $45 million in funding for a third battery of missiles for Israel. Cohen told reporters, that the U.S. is “committed to maintaining Israel's qualitative edge, and we...concur that there is a need, for example, for Israel to acquire a third Arrow battery, and we will cooperate as best we can to see that that occurs.”

The system's development is jointly funded by the United States and Israel. Since 1988, the United States has provided Israel with more than $1 billion in grants for research and development of the Arrow through the defense budget. President Bush requested $60 million for the Arrow for FY2003. The 2004 budget also includes a request for $136 million for the Arrow, of which $66 million is for an improvement program and $70 million for production. The U.S. has also provided funding for two programs to compliment the Arrow, the Boost Phase Intercept program ($53 million) and the Tactical High Energy Laser ($139 million).

The Arrow program has provided the United States with a wide range of technical and operational data and experience that benefit similar American weapons development projects such as the THAAD missile, also designed counter missile attacks. As of now, however, the U.S. Army says it will not procure the Arrow for American use.

Two Arrow batteries have been deployed, one at the Palmachim base to provide cover for Tel Aviv and another near the city of Hadera. A third battery is in development.

Sources: American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Middle East Security Report and Clyde R. Mark, "Israel: U.S. Foreign Assistance," Congressional Research Service, (October 3, 2003); Washington Post, (January 5, 2003); Uzi Rubin, "Meeting the 'Depth Threat' in Iraq - The Origins of Israel's Arrow System," Jerusalem Issue Brief Vol. 2., No. 19, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, (March 5, 2003).