Israel Missile Update – 2000

Israel continues to produce its “Jericho” series of ballistic missiles. The two-stage solid fuel Jericho can deliver a nuclear warhead to any point in the Middle East and probably beyond. Israel is also pursuing a military satellite program and trying to construct a defensive shield against the missiles of its neighbors.

Recent developments

On April 6, 2000 Israel test-fired an unarmed nuclear-capable Jericho-1 missile westward into the Mediterranean Sea. The missile flew more than 300 kilometers before splashing down near a U.S. Navy cruiser that was not forewarned of the test. The Jericho-1 is a two-stage, solid propellant missile capable of carrying a 450 to 650 kilogram payload up to 500 kilometers – as far as Cairo or Damascus. Israel ordered a number of the missiles from France in the 1960s and shortly thereafter began to develop them on its own.

Israel began its more ambitious Jericho-2 program in the 1970s. The Jericho-2 can deliver a 750-1,000 kilogram payload far enough to reach Tripoli, Baghdad, Tehran and even points in Russia. The missile has been in production for roughly a decade, so it is safe to assume that at least dozens are armed with nuclear warheads.

Israel’s space program

Israel’s space industry suffered a blow in January 1998 with the failed deployment of the country’s second military surveillance satellite, the Ofek-4. The Ofek-4 was slated to replace the aging Ofek-3 which was launched in April 1995. The Ofek-3 has reportedly already exceeded its anticipated life-span by more than two years. A second attempt to launch an Ofek-4 – planned for late 2000 – may be postponed due to budget cuts in the Ministry of Defense.

With the launch of the Ofek-1 in September 1988, Israel became the eighth country to launch its own satellite. The 156 kilogram experimental Ofek-1 burned up in January 1989, three months later than expected. Its replacement, the Ofek-2, was launched on April 3, 1990. The 160 kilogram Ofek-2 was reported to be the same size as its predecessor but was said to offer the possibility of two-way communication. (The Ofek-1 could only broadcast information.) All Ofek satellites have been launched westward, against the earth’s rotation, by three-stage, solid-propellant Shavit rockets in order to eliminate the possibility that debris from the rocket or satellite would fall over Israel’s Arab neighbors. By launching the Ofek satellites against the earth’s rotation, Israel has demonstrated that it has the rocket power to deliver a nuclear payload well beyond the Middle East. The Shavit launcher and Jericho-2 missiles use the same rocket motors.

In March 2000, Israel and the Russian Space Agency signed an agreement calling for the launch of eight Earth Resources Observation Satellites (EROS), whose technology is based on the Ofek series, from the Svobodnyy cosmodrome in eastern Russia.

Israel is also interested in promoting the Shavit as a commercial space launcher. In May 1998, Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) announced an agreement with the Coleman Research Corporation of Florida to develop a small expendable launch vehicle, based on Shavit technology. The deal was contingent upon overcoming two obstacles in order to satisfy U.S. government requirements. The first was a U.S. law requiring that missiles launched from U.S. territory be comprised of over 50% U.S. parts, and the second was that no launch system derived from a military launcher could be used for U.S. commercial purposes. IAI claimed to have satisfied the requirements.

Missiles for defense

Israel’s Arrow program is a joint U.S.-Israel effort to develop a system for destroying missiles launched from Syria, Iran and Iraq by intercepting them before they enter Israeli airspace.

In March 2000 the Israeli Air Force (IAF) took command of the first Arrow missile battery, deployed south of Tel Aviv, although the battery will continue to undergo development and testing. A second battery may be deployed north of Tel Aviv near Hadera. After Iran’s test of the Shahab-3 missile in July 1998, Israel began to seek funding for a third battery estimated to cost $169 million, $45 million of which the United States has reportedly agreed to provide.

The program has made significant strides since the first test flight of the Arrow-2 in July 1995. An August 1996 test was designed to evaluate the Arrow-2’s guidance and control system and its ability to receive in-flight updates from the fire control center. In September 1998 the Arrow’s three components – the missile, radar and fire-control systems – were tested together for the first time. In its latest test on September 14, 2000, an Arrow missile shot down a rocket simulating a Scud, and after seven successful tests out of a total of eight, the Arrow’s developers declared the system ready for use.

Since the program began in 1988, the United States has reportedly spent more than $700 million to develop the Arrow, at least $500 million more than official Israeli Ministry of Defense estimates. Total program costs through 2010 are estimated at $2 billion, 55% of which will be paid by Israel. Israeli entities working on the Arrow include the MLM Division of Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd. (IAI), Elta Electronics Ltd., Rafael, Israeli Military Industries (IMI), Tamam, Ramta, and Tadiran Electronics Ltd. The missile includes components produced by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon of the United States.

Israel is also working on a system designed to destroy incoming short-range rockets with a concentrated laser beam. The Tactical High-Energy Laser (THEL) is still in the developmental stage and its effectiveness and future remain unclear.

In its first live-fire test in June 2000, the system shot down a single Russian-made Katyusha rocket. Two months later, the system shot down two Katyushas simultaneously. More tests are likely to continue in 2001.

The system, being developed in the United States by the TRW Corporation, the U.S. Army, and Rafael, Tadiran and Elta in Israel, is designed to detect an incoming rocket, track the rocket’s path, and hold a concentrated laser beam on the rocket’s warhead until the heat generated by the laser causes the warhead to detonate. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, the United States is contributing $106.8 million toward the program and Israel is contributing $24.7 million.

Despite the recent successes, questions about THEL’s effectiveness remain. A March 1999 GAO report stated that THEL faced significant technological challenges, including problems with the valves that control the flow of chemicals through the laser and with the low-power laser itself. In addition, Israeli officials have reportedly expressed doubt over THEL’s effectiveness in defending the country against Katyusha rockets. Israel intelligence and military officials reportedly suspect that Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon have deployed a new version of the Katyusha with a range between 80 and 100 km – four times the range of the standard Katyusha that THEL is designed is destroy.

For additional information on Israel’s missiles, see “Israel: Arrow Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile System and Ofek Satellite Program Suffer Setbacks,” Volume 4, Issue 2 (March-April 1998), “Israel: U.S. Turns Down Shavit Rocket,” Volume 2, Issue 3, (May-June 1996), “Israel: How Far Can Its Missiles Fly?” Volume 1, Number 5 (June 1995) of the Risk Report.