Patriot, Iron Dome, Arrow missile defense shields to be tested; forces to simulate Unmanned Aerial Vehicle intrusion; 1,000 US troops to arrive in Israel, 2,000 more to participate remotely from US, Europe.
US military forces have begun arriving in Israel to take part in the largest joint missile defense exercise of its kind, which will begin next week.
One thousand American soldiers will arrive on Israeli territory and a further 2,000 US troops in Europe and the United States will take part via remote defense computing systems.
An equal number of Israeli soldiers will be involved.
During the drill, named Austere Challenge 12, Israeli air defense systems, such as the Iron Dome anti-rocket shield and Arrow 2 anti-ballistic missile batteries, will be deployed, as well as US and Israeli Patriot batteries. American naval ships carrying the Aegis combat system, which can intercept missiles, will take part, and at least one US Navy ship will dock at Haifa.
The IDF and the US military’s European Command will set up missile defense batteries across Israel. Most of the drill will involve computer simulations of incoming rockets, though in the last stage, a Patriot will be fired at a mock enemy projectile.
“Anyone can take away any message they want from this,” said the IDF’s Brig.-Gen. Nitzan Nuriel, who is heading the Israeli side of the exercise. “The fact that we are working together is a strong message by itself.”
Nuriel defined a successful program as “the interception of all incoming missiles to reduce damage to Israeli infrastructure.”
US Air Force Lt.-Gen. Craig Franklin – the senior American officer in Israel for the exercise – said Washington will be spending $30 million on the drill. Nuriel said Israel would be spending the same amount.
“This is a defensive exercise for missile-defense capabilities in Israel,” Franklin said. He stressed that the drill had no relation to any real world events. “It’s not there to send a message, but to prove a defensive missile capability for Israel,” Franklin said.
All threats to the Israeli home front would be included in scenarios, from long and short-range ballistic missiles to rockets and mortars, he added.
“It’s to prove defense interoperability between our two nations.”
Nuriel said scenarios would include missile attacks from multiple fronts involving more than one salvo per day.
“We need [the soldiers] to work at a high tempo, to prepare them for real scenarios if they are coming,” he said.
Nuriel confirmed that the air defense forces would also practice dealing with the threat of a hostile drone, such as the one sent by Hezbollah into Israeli airspace earlier this month.
A senior Israeli defense source added that the scenarios took “near and far threats” into consideration.
“When we look at the cooperation among our enemies, we understand that our national home front has turned into a target. A joint drill significantly strengthens our operational capabilities,” the source said.
“We welcome our American partners to Israel,” he added.
Throughout the exercise, military traffic on the country’s roads will be greater than usual, and some disruptions could occur to civilian traffic due to army convoys.
Earlier this week, Air Force chief Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel appointed a new head to the Air Defense Command this week.
Brig.-Gen. Shahar Shohat replaced Brig.-Gen. Doron Gavish after the latter completed his term as head of the force.
“The combination of new regimes and terror organizations armed with advanced weaponry, which were once reserved for militaries alone, creates a threat to the heart of our state and way of life,” Eshel warned during the ceremony.
“The Air Defense Command has a vital role in all of the components that make up [our] security concept – defense capabilities together with attack components enable victory,” he said.
Gavish noted that Israeli air defenses intercepted 109 enemy rockets fired at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip in recent years.
“This is a first-time operational achievement on a global scale,” he said.