Israel Sweeps Anti-missile Sensors, Shooters into One Command

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TEL AVIV, Israel — The Israel Air Force (IAF) is placing all of its existing and planned anti-missile gear under one command, an effort to better grapple with the ever-expanding rocket and missile threat.

Based at Palmachim Air Base south of Tel Aviv, Wing 167 will command intercepting batteries and radar sites throughout the country, including the operational Arrow-2, Israeli upgraded versions of the Patriot Pac-2, the initially fielded Iron Dome short-range anti-rockets and planned Arrow-3 upper tier and David’s Sling interceptors.

The wing will also merge data from the country’s early warning and targeting sensors, including long-range infrared imagery from the planned Airborne Early Warning System (ABEWS) drones.

It would also coordinate Israeli missile defense with the United States and other prospective partners if missiles start to fly here in a regional war.

“The wing is unique in that the technology, doctrine and training developed for our multilayered defenses come together in holistic, fully integrated operations,” said Col. Shachar Shohat, who commands the new wing, formally inducted here June 30. “It’s the first organization in the world that includes all active defense assets and support elements in a single command.”

Shohat will unveil details of the new organizational structure and mission mandate at the second annual Israel Multinational Missile Defense Conference and Exhibition here July 27. The conference is expected to draw about 1,000 people from a dozen countries, event organizers said.

Defense officials said the wing will be one of the IAF’s fastest-growing organizations, with staffing growing three- or four-fold to manage billions of dollars worth of technology.

“The rate of resources and assets slated to come into this wing over the next few years could easily surpass the growth we’ve seen in our [unmanned aerial vehicle] organizational structure over the past decade,” one IAF officer said.

Shohat declined to discuss budgetary or personnel expansion plans.

But he said the wing “reflects a new understanding that active defense is now a permanent part of our country’s deterrence, valuable in routine periods, as well as in wartime.”

“Active defense fortifies national resilience in the face of — to put it mildly — the nonlinear growth of the rocket and missile threat. It gives our leaders the breathing room they need to make fateful decisions,” he said. “And if the decision is made to go to war, it protects our critical infrastructure and provides the springboard for allowing Israel to activate its offensive concept.”

Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, IAF commander, said the move fulfills a goal held since the 2006 Lebanon War: to better manage Israeli airspace and fight off aerial threats. Nehushtan said July 12 that the IAF’s renamed Air Defense Force now operates two wings — the new Wing 167 plus the surface-to-air missiles under Wing 168 — and a school.

The wing may add three or four Iron Dome batteries next year to its initial pair, Nehushtan said.

The IAF commander said he is enormously proud of Iron Dome’s initial operational success — eight head-on intercepts in its first 72 hours in action — and the unprecedented speed with which the system was developed.

Lauding the work of Ministry of Defense program managers, prime contractor Rafael, Elta Systems and other Israeli firms, Nehushtan said, “Iron Dome represents the positive qualities of Israeli chutzpah. In less than three years, this unproven invention was introduced into the operational theater as real rockets were falling.”

Still, Nehushtan noted that the new wing has plenty of work to do as it hones procedures and adds intercepting systems.

“I would be very cautious and calibrate the expectations,” he said. “What we have right now is only two batteries, and that’s a very short blanket.”

The IAF commander said the new David’s Sling system — known here as Magic Wand — will add an important layer.

“It will be in charge of a new dimension to defend against a family of missiles not dealt with by Iron Dome or Arrow,” he said. “And for the longer term, once it proves itself effective in its original missile-intercepting mission, we hope to extend it a bit and use it as a [surface-to-air missile] to intercept planes, cruise missiles and other air-breathing targets.”

The key will be getting the various sensors and anti-missile interceptors to work together.

“The whole story depends on integration, and this is really uncharted territory,” Nehushtan said. “We didn’t invent how to fly or how to fight on the sea, but here we’re learning and inventing as we go along. When it comes to operating a multidimensional defensive network against the threat we face here every day, there are no manuals to refer to or anyone to learn from.”

It is not just technology, he said.

“It’s doctrine and discipline — an art form, really — to know how to balance the autonomy offered by technology with the judgment that can only come from the man in the loop,” Nehushtan said.