Israel moved closer to declaring its Arrow-2 anti-ballistic missile system operational with a successful September 14 intercept of a target launched from an Israeli F-15 fighter aircraft. This marked the first test in which the defense system destroyed an incoming target flying directly toward Israel; previously, both the target and the Arrow missile were fired over the Mediterranean Sea because of range limitations stemming from Israel's small size. The test, for the first time, also featured the Black Sparrow missile target, designed to replicate a Scud target and to fly a Scud trajectory. System testing will continue even after the defense is officially declared operational, which may happen within the next few months.
Unlike similar U.S. theater ballistic missile defense systems that use a kinetic warhead to destroy an incoming target by collision, the Arrow-2 missile carries a blast fragmentation warhead. While reducing the necessity for a direct hit to achieve an intercept, the explosive warhead lessens the certainty that an incoming target will be completely destroyed. An analysis is underway to determine whether the Arrow-2 missile actually collided with the Black Sparrow target in the September 14 test.
The September intercept was the first test since the Israeli air force assumed command of the initial Arrow battery in March. Eventually, Israel plans to deploy three of the mobile batteries to protect its territory.
Israel started work on theater ballistic missile defenses in 1986 and began cooperating with the United States on the Arrow project in 1988. The system is expected to cost $1.6 billion through 2005 with Washington picking up approximately $600 million of the tab. By 2010, Arrow costs are estimated to total $2.2 billion.