TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s planned Arrow-3 high-altitude ballistic missile defense system could relatively easily be adapted to destroy Iranian spy satellites if and when Tehran manages to deploy high-resolution orbiting vehicles, military space experts here say.
Iran’s successful February launch of Omid — a crude yet functional technology demonstrator satellite — has renewed calls here not only to protect Israeli assets in space, but also to deny space-based intelligence collection by enemy states. And while experts here concede Iranian satellite development efforts are still in their early stages, many insist that Israel must be prepared to defend against future threats.
“At the moment, Israel enjoys tremendous superiority in space vis-à-vis its Arab and Islamic neighbors. But it is worthwhile to address ASAT (anti-satellite) technological and political issues in case such operations will be needed in the future,” said TalInbar, head of the Space Research Center at the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies.
“Space warfare is a fact of life in the 21st century. Although many speak of a world free of space weapons, a responsible space-faring nation like Israel should be prepared for future eventualities,” Inbar added.
The agile, exoatmospheric, hit-to-kill Arrow-3 interceptor being developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) of Lod, Israel, and Chicago-based Boeing Co. is inherently multirole, and could be adapted, if needed, for A-Sat roles, said retired Maj. Gen. Yitzhik Ben-Israel, chairman of the Israel Space Agency.
“If there’s a threat from space, a logical answer is the Arrow upper tier” system, said Ben-Israel, a former director of Israeli military research and development.
In a rare public acknowledgement of Israeli interest in the A-Sat mission, a Tel Aviv University workshop, co-sponsored by Israel’s Ministry of Defense and leading defense firms, included a presentation on space warfare that alluded to Israel’s ability to blast orbiting spacecraft much in the way that the United States in early 2008 used an Aegis ship-based Standard Missile-3 interceptor to destroy a wayward U.S. satellite. The Nov. 3 workshop was entitled “Israeli Space: Crisis or Opportunity.”
“It’s proven that an anti-ballistic missile system capable of operating at higher altitudes like the SM-3 also will have the ability to shoot down low-Earth orbiting satellites,” YairRamati, IAI’s corporate vice president for marketing, told participants at the workshop.
Ramati, a leading Israeli missile engineer and former Arrow program director, told workshop participants that security restrictions prevented him from discussing how Israeli systems, such as the Green Pine radar, could track satellites. “Most of the radars used to track surface-to-surface missiles are also capable of tracking objects in space,” he said.
Ramati outlined specific engineering challenges to a ground-based A-Sat system, many of which already are being tackled through the Arrow-3’s planned high agility coupled with the integrated early warning and tracking capability of the Green Pine and U.S. AN/TPY-2 radars. The Arrow-3 kill vehicle will be equipped with a so-called divert motor that enables it to switch directions quickly and dramatically.
Such challenges include the need to launch the interceptor before the satellite comes into line of sight with tracking radars; the need to determine optimum impact points so as to minimize debris from the exploding target; and the need for intercepting sensors — as now planned for Arrow-3 — to pivot a full 90 degrees in order to see approaching satellites.
“It’s possible that nations other than the United States, Russia and China may choose to equip themselves with the ability to track or destroy satellites,” said Ramati. “This could become the technological race of the future.”
Ramati did not address the applicability of the planned Arrow-3 for A-Sat missions, nor did he advocate Israeli investment in this area.
ChaimEshed, director of military space programs for Israel’s Defense Ministry, declined to comment on the potential applicability of Arrow-3 for the A-Sat mission. When asked about why such a topic was included in the Nov. 3 workshop, Eshed replied: “It’s a topic worthy of discussion, and I’ll leave it at that.”