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Israel Is Improving Its Magic Wand Versus Missiles

March 23, 2019

Via Wikimedia Commons.

This week Israel’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) shared a video clip it claimed was taken during “missile interception tests” for the David’s Sling,  whose role is to plug the gap between the famous Iron Dome and the Arrow ABM system. Also known as the “Magic Wand,” the David’s Sling originated as a joint venture between missile defense agencies in Israel and the US. Almost a billion dollars went to its R&D and after several years of testing the first David’s Sling unit was declared operational in 2017.

In July 2018 the David’s Sling went into action and successfully knocked out two unspecified rockets from Syria.

A tweet with an embedded video clip of the “interception tests” can be viewed below. Since it was posted on March 19, no details were shared about the extent and outcome of the exercise. The Raytheon brand is clearly seen on the launcher and dozens of US-based suppliers are responsible for the entire system’s components. Israel’s Rafael, on the other hand, has a less defined role although it’s credited as the other half of the joint venture behind the David’s Sling program. The novelty of it comes from the supersonic Stunner hit-to-kill missile with a maximum range of 300 kilometers. According to Raytheon, the Stunner is guided by a ground-based AESA radar allowing it “to destroy large torrents of high-caliber rockets and SRBMs.”

The Stunner accomplishes this by intercepting a rocket at supersonic speed and smashing into its cone with a direct collision. This method is growing in popularity among countries that face ballistic missile threats since traditional SAMs are ill-suited for stopping these.

The threat posed by rocket artillery and ballistic missiles to Israel can’t be understated. The terrorist group Hezbollah, for example, stockpiled an estimated “130,000 rounds” of unguided munitions since the inconclusive 2006 war. The largest among these span 122mm up to 610mm rockets that can be launched against Israel’s cities and critical infrastructure. Meanwhile, in neighboring Syria conventional Soviet rocket artillery such as the BM-27 and the devastating BM-30 are eclipsed by Damascus’ own locally made varieties of Chinese and Iranian rockets. Once again, large diameter models copied from the Fateh-series have the range to strike anywhere in Israel.

As if unguided rockets weren’t a big enough headache, Israel must contend with Syria’s ballistic missiles. These include older road mobile Scud and Scarab SRBMs that could fall into the hands of a proxy or are replenished by a partner. Indeed, circumstantial evidence exists that a manufacturing site for surface-to-surface missiles is being established in Syria. There are several long-term risks as well such as the transfer of Russian Iskander SRBMs to the Syrian military in the near future; the adoption of a very long-range Chinese rocket artillery system; the arrival of Iranian cruise missiles in a neighboring country due to unforeseen circumstances.

To mitigate these scenarios, deliberate programs for a multi-layered defense of the homeland have been pursued for the last three decades. Further testing for the David’s Sling is indicative of a broader role it might soon have as Israel’s foes add to their asymmetric weapons.

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