Why Iran's Unprecedented Attack Failed Against Israel's Arrow Defence

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) stated, "Dozens of surface-to-surface missile launches from Iran were identified approaching Israeli territory.

Iron Dome, David's Sling, and the Arrow Defence System create a layered defence system

Air raid sirens blared across Israel after Iran launched a barrage of drones and missiles in its first-ever direct attack on Israeli territory. Similar aerial attacks occurred last year when Hamas launched Operation 'Al-Aqsa Flood' and conducted aerial and ground attacks.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) stated, "Dozens of surface-to-surface missile launches from Iran were identified approaching Israeli territory. The IDF Aerial Defense Array successfully intercepted the majority of the launches using the Arrow Aerial Defense System, together with Israel's strategic allies, before they crossed into Israeli territory." "We intercepted 99% of the threats launched to the territory of Israel. It's a very significant strategic success," Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said.

Videos on social media platforms show the Arrow defense system, along with the Iron Dome system, intercepting aerial threats. The night sky lit up with multiple explosions across Israel, with no signs of tensions simmering down between the regional powers. (For live updates on the Iran-Israel war, click here)

What is the Arrow Aerial Defense System?

Israel's Aerospace Industries, in collaboration with the US Missile Defence Agency, produced the Arrow Defence System, a surface-to-surface missile system forming an upper tier in Israel's multi-layered air defence system. Development began in the late 1980s as a joint effort between Israel and the US. The Arrow 1 system's technology demonstrator underwent at least seven flight tests in the 1990s and was further developed to form a lighter missile known as Arrow 2, which was inducted in 2000.

The induction of Arrow 2 missiles in the air defence arsenal gave Israel the capability to intercept short and medium-range missiles with its hit-and-kill approach in the upper atmosphere. The objective is to neutralize the incoming missile before its descent stage.

Iron Dome, David's Sling, and the Arrow Defence System create a layered defence system. The Iron Dome system, which has been battle-tested in the past, was actively deployed to intercept drones and short-range threats.

Iron Dome has shot down thousands of rockets since 2011 but is limited to a short range. Israel also has a medium-to-long-range interceptor known as David's Sling.

The slow-moving drones are meant "to confuse the radar systems in Israel and then make sure that the missiles that would follow the drones would hit their intended targets," avoiding the "major humiliation" of all its projectiles being shot down, said Ali Vaez, Iran project director at the International Crisis Group.

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Read more: How Hamas Outfoxed Israel's Iron Dome, A Nearly Impenetrable Air Defence

How Does the Arrow Defence System Work?

The Arrow 2 was inducted into the air defence arsenal in 2000, and the advanced Arrow 3 system is intended to destroy long-range targets in the atmosphere. The rocket has a two-stage solid-propellant booster enabling it to reach speeds of Mach 9 (nine times the speed of sound).

The defence system consists of the missile launcher, the EL/M-2080 Green Pine fire control radar (FCR), a Hazelnut Tree Launch Control Center (LCC), and a Citron Tree battle management centre. The Green Pine radar provides long-range target detection capability and can intercept multiple targets, allowing the missile to take on a maximum of 14 targets. The FCR can also counter electronic jamming of systems. The radar provides an effective range of 2,400 kilometres and can strike targets at altitudes of 100 km.

The radar constantly detects incoming threats towards the territory. Once a target is detected, real-time information is relayed to the control centre regarding the estimated trajectory of the target, its speed, and if the missile is heading toward a strategic target like cities or military establishments, the missile is launched.

The missile is vertically launched, and the two-stage booster powers the rocket to Mach 9. The finned kill vehicle in the rocket can focus its blast in the direction specified by the missile seeker. If it fails to strike the target, the fragmentation warhead can explode within 40 metres of the target.

The Arrow rocket is based on the principle of using Kinetic Energy as a weapon of destruction. The hypersonic speed of the Arrow rockets can allow it to be used as an anti-satellite weapon. The Arrow defence system is compatible with the US Patriot Missile Defence System, providing interoperability. The missiles can be launched from silos, canisters, and each launcher consists of six missiles.

The Arrow 3 defence system is the latest addition to Israel's air defence capabilities to intercept long-range threats. It was first tested in 2015 and was put to use last year in November when it successfully intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile launched by Houthis in Yemen over the Red Sea.

The Arrow 3 rockets neutralize targets in the exo-atmosphere before the ballistic missile enters the re-entry stage. Videos on social media platforms show the Arrow system intercepting Iranian missiles in the exo-atmosphere.

Unlike conventional hit-and-kill technology of rockets that rely on liquid or gas propulsion, the Arrow 3 has a conventional rocket motor, and once launched, its trajectory can be adjusted. Though Arrow 3 is the latest addition, in April 2021, Israel admitted that it failed to intercept Syrian missiles on multiple occasions.

The United States has funded roughly half of the annual development costs of the Arrow 2 system. By 2020, the total U.S. financial contribution toward the Arrow Weapon System exceeded $3.7 billion.