Israel and the United States are honing their cooperation on anti-missile systems through joint production of the Arrow interceptor and a series of increasingly demanding operational exercises aimed at ensuring interoperability of the Israeli-designed system with the U.S.-built Patriot.

In exercises that began here March 10, U.S. Army-operated Patriot units brought in from Europe joined forces with Patriot and Arrow batteries operated by the Israel Air Force to intercept simulated Scud-type targets.

The exercises — part of a regular series of bilateral tests that are code-named Juniper Cobra — are intended to demonstrate the ability of the Arrow’s ground-based radar and battle management center to work with Patriot system elements to define incoming targets, determine a plan of attack, and assign specific launchers and missiles for intercept missions.

“Thanks to American cooperation and to the priority both countries have attached to interoperability, Israel is the only country in the world today that enjoys a true, two-layer missile defense network,” said Uzi Rubin, founding director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization.

In a March 10 interview, Rubin said years of bilateral cooperation and joint exercises have allowed Israel to link the exo-atmospheric Arrow system — which forms the top layer of the two-tiered defense — with the U.S. and Israeli versions of Patriot, which are designed to intercept targets at lower altitudes.

Defense sources here said the Juniper Cobra series and ongoing bilateral efforts to improve Arrow systems and render them more interoperable with U.S. antimissile programs would facilitate Israeli plans to deploy a centralized national command and control center by 2007. When operational, the new center will coordinate and manage disparate elements of its two-tiered network and serve as a single address for processing early warning data and assigning detailed missile intercept tasks to specific defender batteries and missile launchers, they said.

In the event of regional hostilities that require Israeli and U.S. anti-missile systems to operate as an inter-linked network, the center will have an inherent capability to work not only with U.S. Patriots, but with Aegis ship-based radars deployed in the area.

Moreover, Israel’s planned national command and control center will be able to process sensitive early warning data culled from the U.S. Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites. Washington has agreed to share DSP data with Israel in past emergencies, most recently in 2003 during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Ultimately, Israel plans to deploy three batteries of Arrow interceptors, each of which is supported by the Green Pine search and fire control radar and Citron Tree battle management command and control centers. The national missile defense command and control center will replace individual Citron Tree centers, built by Tadiran Electronic Systems Ltd.

Each Arrow-2 missile is designed to fly more than eight times the speed of sound — about two kilometers per second — to intercept incoming ballistic missiles at altitudes or ranges of more than 100 kilometers, defense and industry sources here said. For the lower tier, Israel has at least three batteries of upgraded Patriot Pac-2 missiles to intercept targets at altitudes of about 50 kilometers or less. The Patriots also will be used to defend against aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and so-called leakers — incoming missiles that penetrate the upper-tier Arrow defenses.

Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd. is prime contractor for the Arrow, while its Ashdod, Israel-based subsidiary, Elta Electronic Systems Ltd., provides the Green Pine radar.

Under a complex series of agreements involving the U.S. and Israeli governments, Israel Aircraft Industries and Chicago-based Boeing Co., nearly 50 percent of Arrow missile components and major subsystems are produced in the United States and then shipped to Israel for final assembly. The shared production arrangement allows Israel’s Ministry of Defense to purchase Arrow missiles with U.S. military aid, and also provides a second production line with which to surge missile builds during periods of crisis.

Rollout of the first U.S.-produced Arrow missile components is planned for sometime in April from Boeing’s Huntsville, Ala.-based facility, U.S. and Israeli industry sources here said. In an announcement last April, Boeing’s Integrated Defense Systems announced it was managing several major subcontracts to support Arrow interceptor production, including Alliant-Techsystems in Iuka, Miss. and Clearfield, Utah; Manes Machine in Fort Collins, Colo.; Ceradyne Thermo-Materials, Inc. of Scottsdale, Ga.; and Sanmina SCI, in Huntsville, Ala.

“We welcome our cooperation with Boeing and look forward to strengthened business ties in the future as this program matures,” IAI Spokesman Doron Suslik said March 10.

Meanwhile, Arrow program officials have decided to forego another U.S.-based test of the Arrow weapon system, and to ship the Green Pine radar, the Citron Tree battle management center and other elements associated with an operational battery back to Israel. The Arrow battery had been temporarily located at the U.S. Navy’s Point Mugu Sea Range in California since early last summer for testing, one on July 29, 2004 that succeeded and another one on Aug. 26 “whose mission was not completed,” according to an Israeli Ministry of Defense statement.

The next test of the Arrow Weapon System will take place in Israel later this year.