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September 20, 2009, Sunday

A Very important exercise: Juniper cobra

Ballistic missiles and anti-ballistic systems have become topics of the day nowadays. Especially so after the US announced that it was shelving the anti-missile defense system in Europe aimed against Iran and supposed to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

In fact, before this the topic was on the international agenda due to news about Russian anti-aircraft S-300 missile systems and Israeli reactions to it. In Turkey, the topic is also in the news because of Turkey's intentions to acquire American PAC-3 anti-missile systems.

All in all, the week has been dominated by these topics, and it is almost certain that it will continue to be so for quite some time because a very important military exercise might well lead to new discussions and to new developments next month.

This exercise, code-named Juniper Cobra, will be performed jointly by the US and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in mid-October. It will be the third biennial joint missile defense exercise between the two countries, the first one in 2005, the second in 2007.

The third exercise is being described as the largest joint exercise ever held by the two countries. During this exercise they will test all the components of the joint anti-missile systems, namely the US's THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Air Defense), which incorporates PAC-3 missiles, ship-based Aegis interceptors, X-band radars and the Israeli Arrow anti-missile system.

Of the four, the X-band radar is a relatively new component in this respect. Transportable by air, it uses high-powered pulsed beams for extremely high-resolution tracking of objects in space, such as a missile, that could carry conventional as well as chemical, biological or nuclear warheads. Built by US defense giant Raytheon Company, the system has been described by experts as capable of tracking an object the size of a baseball from about 4,700 kilometers away.

The radar, which was sent to Israel last October as a parting gift from US President George W. Bush, would let Israel's operational Arrow missile defense systems engage long-range Iranian Shahab-3 ballistic missiles about halfway through what would be its 11-minute flight to Israel from Iran, or six times sooner than Israel's “Green Pine” radar is capable of doing. According to one expert, with the X-band system at work and connected to the US system, a missile intercept theoretically would take place over Iran or a neighboring state and not over Israel, which would of course give Israel a significant strategic advantage over potential Iranian missiles.

The radar is deployed in southern Israel near the Nevatim Air Force Base and is under the control of the United States European Command (EUCOM) and manned by US personnel. The IDF and EUCOM conducted a joint exercise of the radar last July. A similar drill was also undertaken in Germany at the same time. The aim of both drills was, of course, to check its interoperability with Israeli early-warning systems, based on the Arrow anti-missile infrastructure.

The results of both drills are, of course, not known; however, it seems that this radar will have an important and central role in the joint anti-missile system. The other components of the system, such as the Aegis interceptors based on warships, the THAAD and the Israeli Arrow system, are relatively older systems. However, that does not mean that they are not being improved or further developed. Of course they are being further developed. In this respect, earlier this year the US Congress approved additional funding for the development of the Arrow-3 system, a larger and extensive version with greater range and capable of detecting and intercepting ballistic missiles at much higher altitudes.

In light of the shelving of European anti-missile defense systems, the upcoming Juniper Cobra exercise assumes far more importance than originally thought because the US anti-missile system is moving away from Europe to the south and the Middle East, and results of Juniper Cobra might well in some way or manner become a basis for the new system in the future.

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