Israel To Develop New Silver Sparrow Air-launch Target Missile

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TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel is developing an air-launched target missile to simulate the type of longer-range, evasive ballistic missile threats that its future two-tier Arrow active defense network is designed to intercept.

The two-stage missile, dubbed Silver Sparrow, is a much larger and faster version of the Black Sparrow and Blue Sparrow maneuvering target missiles developed and produced by state-owned Rafael Ltd.

Under a previously unpublicized Ministry of Defense (MoD) contract awarded in recent weeks, Rafael is slated to deliver the first Silver Sparrows by the end of 2012 for testing of Israel’s Arrow-3 upper-tier interceptor now in development.

“We need a new target to simulate as realistically as possible the speeds, ranges and [radar cross-section and infrared] signatures of threats likely to be encountered in the future by Arrow-3,” a senior MoD official said. “We should have that capability at the end of next year with Silver Sparrow, the newest in the family of Rafael target missiles.”

Unlike Israel’s F-15-launched single-stage Black and Blue Sparrows used to test existing Arrow-2 interceptors, the larger Silver Sparrow is planned for launch from C-130 military transport aircraft. But like the 1.2-ton Black Sparrow — designed to mimic Scud-type missiles — and the 1.9-ton Blue Sparrow resembling the Iranian Shahab series of missiles, Silver Sparrow will feature modular warheads to simulate conventional and nonconventionally tipped missiles and will be designed to replicate multiple types of re-entry trajectories.

The MoD official declined to provide estimated program costs or elaborate on performance specifications, which remain classified.

He noted, however, that Silver Sparrow, along with a new command-and-control system; an improved detection and fire control radar; and a new unmanned aerial vehicle-mounted infrared tracking sensor are all essential elements of the Block 5 Arrow Weapon System (AWS) linking existing Arrow-2 and planned Arrow-3 interceptors into a single upper-tier defensive network.

In a recent interview, the senior MoD official said the ministry’s Israel Missile Defense Organization will soon begin delivering Block 4 versions of AWS to the Israeli Air Force after a successful software validation and intercept test conducted Feb. 22 at Point Mugu Sea Range in California.

Block 4 versions of the AWS, as well as hardware and software upgrades slated for Israel’s newest Block 5, are jointly managed by the Israel Missile Defense Organization and the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency and funded under the bilateral Arrow System Improvement Program.

A voluminous February document containing Pentagon budget estimates for the coming fiscal year describes the Arrow System Improvement Program as “enhancing the performance of the AWS to defeat longer-range and more robust ballistic missile threats expected to be introduced to the Middle East in the near future.”

In the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s mission description for the Arrow System Improvement Program, the agency said the enhanced Block 5 AWS will be capable of dealing with “more stressing regional threats” by increasing total defended area by some 50 percent. Moreover, the Missile Defense Agency noted that the Arrow improvement effort will ensure that AWS will operate with U.S. ballistic missile defense systems such as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense and Aegis via the Joint Tactical Information Data System and Link 16 communication network.

According to the Pentagon’s budget justification book, the current Arrow System Improvement Program agreement with Israel continues through 2016, and likely will be renewed for another follow-on five-year period. Pentagon line-item ledgers show annual requests of some $70 million through 2016 for the program, an amount that Israel is expected to match “in financial and non-financial contributions,” according to the publication.

As for the new Silver Sparrow target missile, Pentagon budget documents show a flyout test slated sometime during the 2012 budget year. The new target missile is scheduled to go against the Arrow-3 for the first time in an intercept test slated for the following fiscal year.

Uzi Rubin, a former Israel Missile Defense Organization director and international consultant on missile defense, said the new “more evolved” class of threats will require a very flexible and robust target missile. By more evolved, Rubin cited longer-range missiles such as the Iranian Ashura and the North Korean BM-25 — an improved version of the Taepodong now in the Iranian inventory — and their ability to use their longer 2,000-3,500 kilometer ranges to evade tracking radars by adopting unexpected and less optimal flight trajectories.

“As MDA Director [Lt. Gen. Patrick] O’Reilly said in recent congressional testimony, one needs to dance around the threat performance issue because of classification restrictions. So let’s just say that if Arrow-3 is designed to defend against more evolved missiles, then Silver Sparrow will have to have the trajectory flexibility and other attributes needed to emulate such evolved threats,” Rubin said.