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David's Sling

Israel Update – Week of May 7, 2023

David’s Sling: This past week saw both the initiation and the conclusion of Operation Shield and Arrow. In the early morning hours on May 9, the Israeli Air Force killed three of the top leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in three separate strikes in three different locations and all within twenty seconds. It was a coup de grace combining real-time intelligence and precision strike capability. The response of the PIJ was soon to come: 36 hours after the targeted killings took place, the PIJ launched a barrage of rockets on the Israeli home front. The Israel Defense Force (IDF) responded with attacks of its own, including additional targeted killings of senior PIJ leaders. Operation Shield and Arrow continued unabated until late Saturday night, when a ceasefire brokered by Egypt was declared.

Here are some statistics courtesy of the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman: During the course of the fighting, 1,468 rockets were fired at Israel, 1,139 of them landed in Israeli territory. The rest of them landed short in Gaza, leading to multiple casualties. 430 of the rockets were intercepted at a rate of success of greater than 95%. (Only rockets that were predicted to land in populated areas were intercepted, meaning that only Iron Dome only had about 20 misses). Most of the rockets fell in areas in the “Gaza envelope,” Israeli towns within 10 kilometers of the border. A lesser number fell in larger cities, including Ashkelon and Beer Sheba, and a handful were launched at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and their environs.

Iron Dome handled the bulk of the work. Intercepting short-range rockets is the system’s bread-and-butter. But during this round of fighting, another missile defense system – David’s Sling – was successfully used for the first time. Israel is protected by a multi-layer missile defense system. Each system handles a different family of threats, where each family is defined primarily by its range – the farther a threat flies, the faster it flies and the more difficult it is to shoot down. The lowest layer of missile defense is manned by Iron Dome, intercepting threats with ranges of up to around 70 kilometers.

The next layer is owned by David’s Sling, also known as “Magic Wand (Sharvit Kesamim).” The third layer is manned by Arrow-2, intercepting threats at the ragged edge of the atmosphere, while the fourth layer is the bailiwick of Arrow-3, intercepting threats in outer space. (Arrow-4, now in advanced development, will serve as a fifth layer). David’s Sling has been used once in the past, in 2018, against a target fired from Syria, and reportedly missed its target. In Operation Shield and Arrow, David’s Sling was used twice, once over the skies of Tel Aviv and once over Jerusalem. In both instances it successfully intercepted its target.

Like its cousin Iron Dome, David’s Sling is produced by RAFAEL Advanced Defense Systems, Israel’s leading missile house. But whereas Iron Dome was developed entirely in Israel, David’s Sling was developed jointly by RAFAEL in Israel and Raytheon in the U.S. The program is funded jointly by the Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO) and by the American Missile Defense Agency (MDA). I had the honor of managing the cooperation for its first five years.

David’s Sling handles interceptions very differently than Iron Dome. Iron Dome intercepts a target by detonating its warhead in close proximity to the target. The well-timed and well-placed explosion of the interceptor’s warhead results in the sympathetic detonation of the target’s warhead, destroying the target. The David’s Sling interceptor, known as “Stunner,” doesn’t even have a warhead. Stunner operates via the “hit-to-kill” philosophy, destroying the target by impacting the target’s warhead. The fact that Stunner does not need to carry around a heavy warhead means that it can fly faster and farther than an Iron Dome interceptor. Indeed, Stunner flies nearly twice as fast and ten times as far. It also costs about ten times as much, meaning that the IDF must be more picky when it comes to choosing targets for David’s Sling. If a target can be intercepted by both Iron Dome and David’s Sling, there must be a compelling reason to intercept it with the more expensive interceptor.

Stunner’s long range means that while Iron Dome batteries must be located near the city they are protecting, a single David’s Sling battery, located at Ein Shemer Air Force Base between Haifa and Tel Aviv, can essentially defend the entire country. During Operation Shield and Arrow, the combined use of David’s Sling and Iron Dome enabled the placement of more Iron Dome batteries where they were needed – closer to the Gazan border – while David’s Sling served as a backup, defending longer range targets such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that would have required multiple Iron Dome batteries to defend. And so last week, Israelis were treated to seeing Stunner interceptors streaking halfway across the country to keep her skies clean.

For more than a decade, USIEA has been educating U.S. lawmakers about the importance of U.S.-Israel collaboration in missile defense. In 2015, I had the honor of briefing Congress on Iron Dome. Standing with me was Dr. Yair Ramati, then the Head of the IMDO, who spoke about David’s Sling. The briefing was set up by USIEA, who worked hand in hand with Congressman Kevin McCarthy, then House Majority Leader.

Israel will continue to develop her missile defense skills to defend herself against new threats, and USIEA will continue to ensure that Congress knows everything they need to know, both to support her greatest ally and more importantly, to defend Americans at home and abroad.

Wishing you a quiet week,

Ari Sacher

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