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Advanced Arrow Radar Deployed, Missile Defense May be Next

The IDF has deployed an advanced radar to help track missile launches from Gaza. Missile defense systems are currently under development.
By Yehudah Lev Kay
First Publish: 1/4/2009, 12:16 PM

Northrop Grumman

The IDF's advanced Arrow missile defense system has been deployed near Ashkelon to help the Home Front Command detect missile launches. Meanwhile, former army officers are calling on the defense establishment to purchase an American missile defense system capable of shooting down Kassam and Katushya rockets.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has developed an updated radar system named MC4 based on the Arrow missile defense system, which was developed jointly by the U.S. and Israel to counter ballistic missile launches. The new radar can track the launch of smaller missiles, such as the Kassam or Grad rockets, as they are being launched from Gaza. Using GPS and camera sensors, the MC4 system tracks the flight path, and within a minute of launch, it can determine both the launch site and projected landing site of the missile.

An officer in the unit explained, “This is the most advanced radar that the air force has, and it helps sound the alarm systems in target cities. It can also detect rocket launches in poor weather conditions. Launches over the last few days during the rain were detected by the system.”

The MC4 radar is also used by rescue staff to help know precisely where the rockets fall. The system tracks the missile path in real time and displays the location of its fall on a map, which includes data such as the location of schools and shopping centers. It also enables rescue staff to immediately dispatch emergency crews to the site of the hit.

In addition, the MC4 radar quickly determines the precise location from which a rocket was launched. The IDF can use the data to immediately dispatch an air strike or artillery fire to the location of the rocket launch. Since small rockets such as Grads can be launched by mobile crews, knowing the location of the rocket launch as quickly as possible is crucial.

Development of the new radar system began after the Second Lebanon War, when Hizbullah terrorists were able to successfully launch thousands of missiles at Israeli targets. Contemporary radars were found to be inadequate in detecting the launch of small rockets with sufficient speed and precision. The new radar was developed by the IAI's Malam Missile and Space Factory and is the most advanced system of its kind in the world. It is exclusive to Israel. 

The Arrow missile defense system, which was co-developed by the U.S. and Israel beginning in 1986, is estimated to have cost $2 billion. The system was successfully tested against Scud missile launches in 2004, 2005, and 2007. The Arrow system is also Israel’s primary defense against Iran’s ballistic missile threat. Israeli officials claim that the system can successfully intercept any missile currently in operational use by Iran.

Ex-Officers Call for New System
Meanwhile, a group of reserve army officers and scientists has arranged a seminar for Sunday, January 4, named “Protecting the Home Front." The goal of the seminar is to call on the government to purchase the American-developed Skyguard missile system to protect against rocket launches from Gaza. The Skyguard system, formerly known by the name Nautilus, is produced by American defense contractor Northrop Grumman and uses high powered lasers to shoot down incoming missiles, artillery shells, and mortar shells.

The technology behind the system was jointly developed by the U.S. and Israel starting in 1996 at a cost of $400 million. In tests held between 2000 and 2004, the system successfully shot down Katushya rockets, artillery shells and mortar shells. Israel discontinued its participation in the project shortly afterwards, claiming the system was too costly and not sufficiently effective.

Israel then turned to Israeli defense contractor Rafael to develop the “Iron Dome” missile defense system which uses short range rockets to shoot down incoming threats. The system is not yet operational. In the meantime, Northrop Grumman continued to improve the Skyguard system, and says it is currently capable of meeting Israel’s needs.

Supporters claim that the Skyguard laser based system is more suited to Israel’s needs than the rocket-based Rafael solution. Firstly, the laser can intercept short range missiles such as the Kassam rocket which hit their targets in less than 10 seconds. The rocket-based Rafael system can only hit medium-range rockets which reach their targets in more than 20 seconds. In addition, each laser round fired costs approximately $3,000. In contrast, defensive rockets for the Iron Dome system are estimated to cost over $100,000. Supporters also claim that the Skyguard system could be deployed in a short amount of time, whereas the completion of the Iron Dome rocket system is not foreseen in the near future.

In March 2007, residents of Sderot sued the government, claiming that the Skyguard system could protect them from terrorist rocket fire. Supporters of the Skyguard system claim the Israeli security establishment is either not willing to spend the money for the system, or prefers to give the missile defense contract to Israeli defense contractor Rafael. In the meantime, Israeli communities around Gaza remain largely unprotected.